ConservationFishing GearFishing Tackle

Safer Release for Rockfish

Many species of rockfish hardly move. These nonpelagic fish may literally spend their entire life on a single pile of rocks. They grow slowly, are long living and extremely susceptible to overfishing. They’re also fun to catch and retired charter captain Ace Callaway made his living guiding clients to numerous bottomfish in Alaska. Ace says he once caught a yelloweye rockfish that was born during the Civil War according to a DNA analysis. He wanted to do something to help these fish stick around for another few hundred years.

“After years of trial and error, Ace came up with a tool that sends rockfish, grouper or any other fish back to the bottom where it then releases the fish.”

The simple tool consists of a spring-loaded jaw clamp and a weight. When going through the water, the weight keeps the jaw clamp tight via a spring. Once the weight hits the bottom, the clamps open up and release the fish. A 5-pound weight will zip that rockfish up to 20 pounds right back to their natural habitat. You don’t even need to vent the animal’s bladder to release the air.

Anyone who has caught a rockfish from the depths knows that a fish will fight hard for the first portion of the fight, but once barotrauma sets in the change in pressure causes the fish to blow up and the fight is over. The fish’s eyes will bug out as its air bladder expands and the stomach will extend out of the fish’s mouth. Venting the fish, or puncturing the air bladder was long thought of as the best way to release a bottomfish, but studies show that 60 percent of fish released after venting die.

A study on the problems of barotrauma in deep-water game fish by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department turned into a problem-solving quest for Ace. He wanted to invent a simple, effective and low-cost way to reduce fish mortality rates. He started with baskets to send the fish back down and experimented with barbless hooks, but the fish often shook free and would float back the surface.