Nick Haddad is in the cockpit of a 28-foot Whitewater, stabilizing himself against the roiling springs seas of the Florida Keys as he explains how to use a series of devices with names like SeaQualizer and SeaYaLater. These descending devices are designed for bottomfish impacted by barotrauma, which occurs when deepwater fish are quickly reeled up to the surface, causing internal organs and gases in their body cavities to abnormally expand, often leading to death for those that are released (either due to the barotrauma itself or from being left vulnerable to sharks and dolphins). Haddad is the communications manager for Return ’Em Right, a new initiative that aims to improve reef fish survival rates in the Gulf of Mexico by equipping anglers with the knowledge and gear necessary to successfully release the fish at depth.
So far, more than 23,000 anglers have been trained and received free release gear.
“The positive response and conservation ethic from the fishing community has been inspiring,” Haddad says. “Nearly one-third of participating anglers have been referred to the program by their peers.”
Return ’‘Em Right’s social media reach recently surpassed 685,000 impressions, and the program has garnered more than 100 media mentions. They can add another one to the list. —-Shawn Bean