Releasing your catch

Barotrauma in fish is an injury caused by the expansion of gases in the body due to a decrease in pressure as the fish is brought up from deep water.

There are ways you can reduce the affects of barotauma on fish when you catch and release them.

Most reef fish species can suffer barotrauma, especially black jewfish and golden snapper.

Signs of barotrauma

In waters deeper than 10m, most fish with any of the following symptoms are unlikely to be fit for release:

  • the fish’s stomach is pushed out through its mouth
  • the fish has a bloated stomach and bulging eyes
  • the fish can't swim down from the surface.

Ways to reduce barotrauma

You should follow all of these guidelines to prevent barotrauma when reef fishing in water deeper than 10m:

  • stop fishing if you have caught enough for your needs
  • target species such as barramundi or trevally that are less prone to barotrauma
  • keep reef fish you catch, within the possession limit, as they are unlikely to survive if released
  • change locations if you keep catching juvenile or unwanted reef fish
  • use large non-offset circle hooks, a minimum of 5/0, to prevent catching smaller fish.

If you are on a charter boat and you don't want to keep the fish, ask the skipper to target fish species that are suited to catch and release and are less likely to suffer from barotrauma.

Get the barotrauma guide PDF (574.0 KB).

How to handle and release fish

You can improve a fish's chance of survival by using certain handling techniques, fishing gear and careful release back into the water.

You should release fish as soon as possible after capture.

Fishing gear

You should use:

  • tackle and gear that matches the size of the fish you are targeting
  • barbless hooks when using lures
  • non-offset circle hooks when using bait
  • artificial lures
  • a fish-friendly knotless landing net.


You should apply all of the following when handling fish:

  • wet your hands before handling a fish
  • do not hold a fish by its jaw or gills
  • support the fish's weight horizontally by using both hands
  • do not put a fish you want to release on a hot surface
  • when a fish is deeply hooked cut the line close to the mouth and leave the hook in place
  • if practical and safe, remove the hooks while the fish is still in the water.


If it is safe to do so you should revive a tired fish by holding it gently in the water with its head facing into any current to allow water to pass over its gills.

You should release fish into bank side cover or snags to provide protection while they recover.

Pelagic fish such as tuna and mackerel are fragile and should be handled carefully. It is often best to throw them head first back into the water to force a rush of water through their gills.

Last updated: 28 January 2016

Give feedback about this page.

Share this page:

URL copied!