Best Practices.

Recreational Fishing Best Practices Workshop

In partnership with The Sportfishing Conservancy, Ocean Conservancy, Anglers for Conservation, NOAA

Location: Florida Gulf Coast Center for Fishing and Interactive Museum, Largo, FL

Date: Saturday, April 27

The Sportfishing Conservancy, together with Ocean Conservancy, NOAA and Anglers for Conservation, hosted a Best Practices Workshop in Largo, Florida. The intent of this workshop was two fold. The first objective was to work together in developing and implementing recreational fishing best practices that will promote responsible angling and conservation of the resource. The second objective was to develop a positive and working relationship between anglers, scientists, and conservationists. The Best Practices Workshops provide a venue where all of these groups can work together to build relationships where we can all work together to promote enjoyment of the marine resources while at the same time learning how to conserve and protect it for many future generations to enjoy.

The Gulf Coast Best Practices Workshop was moderated by George Geiger and the speakers included Dr. Chris Lowe, Dr. George Sedberry, Tom Raftican, Rodney Smith, Tom Van Horn and Terry Gibson.We covered a wide variety of topics including barotrauma and catch and release success, mortality studies of fish in Grey’s Reef sanctuary, education and conservation programs, and tools to use that will help to lighten our footprint and become a more responsible angler.



Dr. Chris Lowe is a professor in Marine Biology at California State University, Long Beach.  He is an avid fishermen and has recently been studying barotrauma and the effects of catch and release on many species off the coast and islands of Southern California.  As he stated, fish have both a physiological as well as behavioral changes when caught. His research has studied all of these effects from within minutes of capture to weeks, months and sometimes years after release. Historically the only way to study these effects was with a tag and release system that was not very effective due to the recapture rate only being 4-10% With improved technology, they are now using satellite transmitters and tracking robots to follow these fish to find the long term effects of larger populations of studied fish.

In combination with transmitters (which help to determine behavioral changes) , they also study the physiological changes by taking blood samples of fish and measuring lactate and cortisol levels to determine stress indicators.

Dr.Lowe’s research has proven that catch and release works and can be very successful when done correctly. He hopes that in the future, anglers and scientist can collaborate more often to ensure that these catch and release practices continue to work.

Dr. George Sedberry is the ---- at NOAA’s Grey’s Reef Sanctuary. His main focus of his presentation was on the mortality studies done on several species that inhabit Grey’s Reef.  Dr. Sedberry’s concern is that the South Atlantic has not had access to more specialized testing on mortality rates such as the studies done in Southern California. Mortality rates vary depending on species, size of fish, depth of capture, etc. so it is difficult to determine exactly what plan to put into place to help protect the fish of Grey’s Reef.  The Sanctuary does promote fishing in shallower waters (to prevent barotrauma), avoiding spawning areas when fishing and they highly encourage catch and release. Dr. Sedberry would like to see more specialized science done on the area to determine the best course of action going forward.

Rodney Smith is the founder of “Hooked Kids on Fishing” an educational program run thru the Anglers for Conservation. His main concern is in sustaining recreational fishing for future generations to enjoy and appreciate. Anglers have a tremendous ability right now to become great stewards of the environment and Anglers for Conservation is hoping to promote this idea not only thru his Kids Fishing program but also by practicing and promoting the 4 R’s- Recycle, Reuse, Reduce and Respect. 

Terry Gibson and Tom Van Horn both spoke about tools that can be used by anglers to aid in the success of catch and release fishing as well as protecting the habitat. Tom Van Horn is a fishing guide in the Indian River Lagoon and has recently begun using the “Anchor No Anchor” system. It is an electric motor that sits off the bow of a fishing boat and allows the boat to stay in one position while not dropping the anchor. Most importantly this prevents the anchor from damaging the sea floor and protects grasses and corals from being damaged by the weight and dragging of an anchor.  Also, it allows the anglers to quickly move without having to pull anchor.  Tom also spoke of the benefits of having a de-hooking device onboard which helps the angler release a fish without having to touch the fish. This helps to protect the slime coat of the fish and prevent any infection from setting in due to slime coat being removed. 

Terry Gibson suggested tackle tools that individual anglers can use such as circle hooks, which result in the hook embedding in the corner of a fish’s mouth which results in less damage to fish and makes it easier to release.  Also, using a release tool such as a Boga Grip, which allows for the fish to be “handled” without actually having to touch the fish. The Boga Grip gently grips the fish’s lip while the angler can safely remove the hook and photograph the fish.  The use of a mesh net also helps to protect the slime coat of a fish as well as preventing “tail split” which causes infection and ultimately death of the fish. Terry also pointed out the less obvious, but just as important tools that individuals should use to become a responsible angler.The most powerful tool we all have is our mind. We should use this to communicate, use technology, and think outside the box in terms of how and why we should promote conservation and work together to protect our resources. Lastly, Terry promoted cooperative research with scientist to work together in helping to protect our fisheries.

Group Findings


 Those in attendance of the Gulf Coast Best Practices Workshop represented recreational anglers, commercial anglers, scientists, and conservationalists. After listening to the speakers, the attendees were equally split into three working groups where all users were represented. Each group consisted of approximately ten participants and was led by a moderator. The groups were given approximately one hour to discuss their ideas and make suggestions on what direction they would like the future of fisheries management to go.

Group 1

This group brought up the idea of offering a fishing safety course where discussions would include safe handling of fish, venting and decompression options, as well as local regulations. A suggestion was made that an individual could have a reduced license fee if they participated in such a course. This group also discussed the runoff from boat wash downs and the impact that the runoff has on waters near the wash down. Since this runoff likely contains chemicals, it was suggested that the water be recycled or diverted into an area where it can be treated before going back into the ocean or lake. All of the members of Group 1 agreed that they would like to see more research done, like the work that Dr. Lowe is doing, to show what works and what does not work.

Group 2


Group 2 focused on being prepared. Education on how anglers can prepare for a successful release by having items such as dehooker, mesh net, Boga Grip, and of course a camera for pictures.  Education towards the public on how to handle fish was also a main topic. Members of this group would like to see more exposure (fishing shows, pictures/videos in tackle store and online) of how to catch and release a fish successfully. Also, education on how to determine symptoms that would determine if a fish needs venting and/or recompression.  This group would like to see fishing personalities on fishing shows use their platform to promote responsible anglings ideas and techniques. 

Group 3


Group 3’s main focus was to approach the Best Practices Workshops with a Grassroots type of movement. As opposed to implementing regulations that require participation, members of this group (and the other groups as well) would like to see this movement come from anglers (bottom up). They suggested using fishing clubs to promote Best Practices. This group also discussed the importance of contacting local legislation to make legislators aware of anglers concerns.  This group also discussed the importance of using fishing media to promote message of “responsible fishing” and also pointed out that social media (FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter, You Tube) should be utilized in spreading a grassroots movement. Lastly, this group discussed the importance of involving tackle manufacturers and retail store (such as West Marine, Bass Pro Shops, etc.) in creating and promoting environmentally friendly products and packaging. By creating a standard (such as a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval”) for manufacturers to abide by, the public could choose to buy environmentally friendly products. 




The Gulf Coast Best Practices Workshop was a tremendous success. The following day, participants were invited to spend the morning implementing some of the ideas that were learned in the workshop. A great time was had by all and there was a lot of discussion and support of promoting more of these workshops across the country.  There was tremendous positive feedback from all participants that these workshops need to continue and this message needs to be shared. A common message that was shared throughout the day was that we all share a passion for being on the water, whether is be fishing, diving, or just enjoying the peacefulness that the water offers.The ultimate goal of all of ours is to protect and conserve these opportunities for future generations to enjoy.


Department of Fish & wildlife