DESCEND Act Gains Additional Momentum in Congress

Alexandria, Va. –Today, the bipartisan DESCEND Act, which will improve the survival of Gulf of Mexico red snapper and other prized reef fish when caught and released, unanimously passed out of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources.
The Direct Enhancement of Snapper Conservation and the Economy through Novel Devices Act of 2019, better known as the DESCEND Act, was introduced last November by U.S. Reps. Garret Graves (R-La.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), who also chairs the U.S. House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, and Steve Palazzo (R-Miss.). This bipartisan legislation would require that recreational and commercial fishermen possess a descending device that is rigged and ready for use or a venting tool while fishing in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

“Given the importance of Gulf red snapper to the region’s economy and culture, the many years of sacrifices by fishermen to rebuild the fishery and the millions of federal and state dollars put toward Gulf red snapper research and management, it is our collective responsibility to minimize wasteful discard mortality of the stock,” said Mike Leonard, vice president of Government Affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “The DESCEND Act is a great example of Congress coming together in a bipartisan fashion for common-sense legislation that benefits conservation and the economy.”

“All three men are good recreational anglers, so Congressmen Graves, Huffman and Palazzo understand anglers’ passion for marine conservation, and they know of the necessity for an abundance of fish. We thank them for their bipartisan leadership on the DESCEND Act,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “We commend the House Natural Resources Committee for making the culturally important Gulf of Mexico reef fish fishery a priority by sending this legislation to the House Floor.”

Adoption of descending devices or venting tools is becoming more common in many parts of the United States, such as in South Atlantic waters where a regulation to require possession of descending devices is expected to go into effect this year. In Chairman Huffman’s home state of California, the widespread use of descending devices has been demonstrated to improve the survival of rockfish, ultimately leading to improved fishing opportunities.

By requiring possession of descending devices or venting tools in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and encouraging their use, the DESCEND Act will help to reduce discard mortality of fish which experience barotrauma, particularly the politically contentious red snapper.

In January, the American Sportfishing Association’s Southeast Fisheries Policy Director Kellie Ralston testified in favor of the DESCEND Act during a hearing in the U.S. House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife. Ralston’s testimony outlined the need to do more to help restore red snapper populations. Each year, hundreds of thousands of red snapper must be released back after being caught. If barotrauma is not properly addressed their chance of survival declines leaving less fish to rebuild the stock.

The DESCEND Act has also been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) where it currently awaits consideration by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.