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Venting and Descending Provide Equivocal Benefits for Catch-and-Release Survival: Study Design Influences Effectiveness More than Barotrauma Relief Method

Eberts, Rebecca L., Somers, Christopher M.
North American Journal of Fisheries Management 2017 v.37 no.3 pp. 612-623
biotelemetry, experimental design, fish, freshwater, game fish, habitats, managers, models, mortality, relative risk, swim bladder
Descending fish to depths of neutral buoyancy is a promising, less-invasive alternative to swim bladder venting for relieving barotrauma and reducing mortality in sport fish. However, we lack a broad perspective on the relative benefits of these two approaches. We reviewed the most up-to-date literature to evaluate the effectiveness of venting compared to descending treatments. Mean relative risk (RR) based on 76 published comparisons (51 marine, 25 freshwater; 18 genera, 28 species) showed that venting (2.0 ± 4.7 [mean ± SD]) and descending (1.6 ± 1.4) both had positive effects on survival (RR ≥ 1.1). However, RR was generally small and statistically indistinguishable between treatments, providing no strong support for the use of one method over the other. Modeling of factors affecting RR showed that the study design variable “assessment method” was the only important factor affecting RR, having a larger influence on survival than habitat, capture depth, or treatment type (venting versus descending). Biotelemetry and ex situ methods produced significantly higher estimates of RR than other assessments. Our review suggests that the two major approaches to barotrauma relief do not differentially influence survival outcomes and that study design may be an important source of bias. Consequently, we recommend that managers consider barotrauma relief options carefully on a case-by-case basis, and we encourage additional research on sublethal endpoints in addition to mortality. Received November 29, 2016; accepted March 9, 2017 Published online May 4, 2017