Physiological stress and post-release mortality of white marlin (Kajikia albida) caught in the United States recreational fishery
White marlin, a highly migratory pelagic marine fish, support important commercial and recreational fisheries throughout their range in the tropical and subtropical Atlantic Ocean. More than 10 000 individuals can be caught annually in the United States recreational fishery, of which the vast majority are captured on circle hooks and released alive. The probability of post-release mortality of white marlin released from circle hooks has been documented to be <0.02, but the associated physiological stress resulting from capture and handling techniques has not been characterized despite its importance for understanding the health of released fish. We examined the physiological response of 68 white marlin caught on circle hooks in the recreational fishery and followed the fate of 22 of these fish with pop-up satellite archival tags programmed to release after 30 days. Measures of plasma sodium, chloride, glucose and lactate concentrations taken from fish that were briefly and consistently (mean = 120 s, standard deviation = 40 s) removed from the water increased with angling time, but post-release mortality was inversely related to angling time. The probability of post-release mortality was predicted by elevated plasma potassium concentrations and was more than 10 times greater than has been previously reported for white marlin caught on circle hooks that were not removed from the water. This disparity in estimates of post-release mortality suggests that removal of fish from the water for physiological sampling greatly heightens stress, disrupts homeostasis and thus increases the probability of post-release mortality. Our results demonstrate that elevated concentrations of plasma potassium predict mortality in white marlin and that the probability of post-release mortality is highly dependent on post-capture handling procedures.