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Deepwater fish are different.

When you fish below 200-300 feet you are fishing in a different realm of the ocean. You are fishing ancient fish in an ancient habitat. I do not believe any other fish biologist on this planet has spent nearly 40 years diving in manned submarines to depths down to 3,000 feet, over 1,500 hours observing and capturing fish. I captured several thousand deepwater fish with the Johnson-Sea-Link submarines. The species captured included over 100 new fish never seen by humans before. Many of these studies, and those of my colleagues, have demonstrated the fragility of deep sea fish to human disturbance and capture in Florida waters.

Going deeper than 600 feet, you are more likely to see fish that are living fossils, whose ancestors were swimming when 1-Rex was hunting the jungles of North America. The wreckfish belongs to an ancestral group that gave rise millions of years ago to all the spiny rayed fishes we see today that numerically dominate fish species diversity in shallow coastal waters. Other living fossils include the spiny dogfish, orange roughy, and the deep water groupers--Warsaw, yellowfin, misty and snowy. These deepwater groupers are genetically different from all other groupers. These species can live 50 to 150 years. One yellowfin grouper aged over 30 years ago was 85 years old and hatched before the Wright brothers made their first flight. It was not the largest yellowfin grouper caught, so, not necessarily the oldest. The orange roughy and spiny dogfish may not mature until they are over 20 years, some at over 40 years. Compare that to our own kids that are already looking for mates in their teens.

These fish reproduce slowly and grow slowly as they live in a cold, dark, slow world. The first thing that strikes anyone going down in the deep sea is that it is a stark, often barren world with fish and animal densities far lower than in coastal shallow waters. This is one reason why these fish take bait so readily. When you take a fish out of deep bottom waters, particularly a large old fish, you are having a significantly greater impact on the fish assemblage than when you fish for spotted seatrout or snook in coastal waters.

Catch and release does not work for deep sea fish as most die, or are seriously damaged when reeled to the surface from the deep, cold dark depths. Mortality of released fish, wreckfish, deep water groupers and orange roughies, is almost always 100 percent.

This means you have a serious decision to make when you decide to fish deepwater fish, such as wreckfish. Once you catch one, your limit, aren't you going to stop fishing? If you put the line down again, you might catch another that may be dead by the time you get it to the surface. Warsaw grouper have declined significantly in numbers, totally disappearing from many deep sea reefs I have studied over the years. The Warsaw will be dead at the surface. So will wreckfish, yellowfin and snowy groupers. You may have your limit on the first catch and it may be a fish that hatched from the egg long before your grandfather learned to talk and walk.

By R. Grant Gilmore, Ph.D.

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Title Annotation:Sportsman's Biologist
Author:Gilmore, R. Grant
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Date:Mar 1, 2013
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