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Best Practices for Safely Releasing Deep Caught Saltwater Fish

Saltwater fish that are caught in deep water may be suffering from “barotrauma,” a buildup of swim bladder gases that makes it difficult or impossible for them to go back down. Generally, fish caught deeper than 30 feet will suffer some effects. Additional guidance is available at, but follow these basic tips:

Assess condition while reeling in fish

  • Signs of barotrauma include (any or all of the following):
    • Sluggish swimming.
    • “pop eye.”
    • stomach protruding from mouth.
    • Bloated mid section.
  • If the fish appears normal release it without removing it from the water.


  • Rapidly returning fish to depth (“recompression”) is the method of choice for returning barotrauma affected fish.
  • A variety of recompression tools are on the market, including descender devices, release weights, release baskets, and others.

Return to Depth

  • Return fish to the depth of capture. If catching fish at very deep depths, returning them as deep as possible will dramatically improve survival.


  • If rapid descent is not possible, venting is another, but less preferable, option.
  • Use established guidelines for venting such as found at  
  • Note that the fish’s stomach may protrude from its mouth. Do NOT puncture the stomach.


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