Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

Ernst Peebles


Catch and release, Discard Mortality, Gulf of Mexico, Proportional Hazards Regression Model, Reef fish, Regulatory discards


The objectives of this study were to measure injuries and impairments directly observed from gags Mycteroperca microlepis caught and released within a large-scale recreational fishery, develop methods that may be used to rapidly assess the condition of reef fish discards, and estimate the total portion of discards in the fishery that suffer latent mortality. Fishery observers were placed on for-hire charter and headboat vessels operating in the Gulf of Mexico from June 2009 through December 2012 to directly observe reef fishes as they were caught by recreational anglers fishing with hook-and-line gear. Fish that were not retained by anglers were inspected and marked with conventional tags prior to release. Fish were released in multiple regions over a large geographic area throughout the year and over multiple years. The majority of recaptured fish were reported by recreational and commercial fishers, and fishing effort fluctuated both spatially and temporally over the course of this study in response to changes in recreational harvest restrictions and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Therefore, it could not be assumed that encounter probabilities were equal for all individual tagged fish in the population. Fish size and capture depth when fish were initially caught-and-released also varied among individuals in the study and potentially influenced recapture reporting probabilities. The Cox proportional hazards regression model was used to control for potential covariates on both the occurrence and timing of recapture reporting events so that relative survival among fish released in various conditions could be compared.

A total of 3,954 gags were observed in this study, and the majority (77.26%) were released in good condition (condition category 1), defined as fish that immediately submerged without assistance from venting and had not suffered internal injuries from embedded hooks or visible damage to the gills. However, compared to gags caught in shallower depths, a greater proportion of gags caught and released from depths deeper than 30 meters were in fair or poor condition. Relative survival was significantly reduced (alpha (underline)<(/underline)0.05) for gags released in fair and poor condition after controlling for variable mark-recapture reporting rates for different sized discards among regions and across months and years when individual fish were initially captured, tagged and released. Gags released within the recreational fishery in fair and poor condition were 66.4% (95% C.I. 46.9 to 94.0%) and 50.6% (26.2 to 97.8%) as likely to be recaptured, respectively, as gags released in good condition. Overall discard mortality was calculated for gags released in all condition categories at ten meter depth intervals. There was a significant linear increase in estimated mortality from less than 15% (range of uncertainty, 0.1-25.2%) in shallow depths up to 30 meters, to 35.6% (5.6-55.7%) at depths greater than 70 meters (p < 0.001, R2 = 0.917). This analysis demonstrated the utility of the proportional hazards regression model for controlling for potential covariates on both the occurrence and timing of recapture events in a large-scale mark-recapture study and for detecting significant differences in the relative survival of fish released in various conditions measured under highly variable conditions within a large-scale fishery.