Written by: Aaron J. Adams, Ph.D., Bonefish & Tarpon Trust
Editor’s Note: I was preparing to post Dr. Aaron Adams’s excellent discussion of BTT’s important work on bonefish spawning locations in The Bahamas (below), when I saw this great new video about the organization. I thought the two worked well together.
As I crept along a mangrove-fringed shoreline in shin-deep water, I could barely make out the tips of a bonefish tail and dorsal fin in the pre-dawn light. The fish slowly searched the shallows for food, occasionally tipping on a found morsel, its entire tail exposed. I cast the fly to land on the exposed sand and slowly crept the fly into the water. The bonefish turned and slurped in the barely-wet fly. The fight was on.
These are the scenarios we think about when we think about fishing for bonefish–shallow flats, mangroves, and tailing fish moving in and out with the tides. And the flats habitats are priority one for conservation actions like habitat protections, but making sure bonefish populations are healthy enough to support strong fisheries requires more than just the flats. We must also protect the locations where they spawn, and the routes they use to migrate to spawning sites.
Working with BTT science partners, fishing guides, and The Bahamas National Trust, information from bonefish research was used in 2016 to establish six new national parks that protect bonefish habitats. Three of these parks protect bonefish spawning sites that were identified by this research.
BTT continues to work with science partners, guides, Bahamas National Trust, and The Nature Conservancy to identify spawning sites throughout The Bahamas so these sites can be protected as part of BNT’s and TNC’s efforts to protect 20% of The Bahamas’ waters for conservation. To do this work, we use interviews with fishing guides to help us identify potential spawning sites, behavioral observations of pre-spawning fish to confirm these new sites, the examination of eggs to determine whether females in these aggregations are indeed ready to spawn, and tagging to determine from how far away bonefish are migrating to form these spawning aggregations.
We are now working our way through The Bahamas to identify more of these important sites, and continue to share this information with BNT and TNC so they can use it in their conservation planning. Based on these efforts, we anticipate that new protected areas will be proposed in 2018 or 2019.
Thanks to an international panel and other discussions at the BTT Science Symposium earlier this year, we are also beginning to use these methods to help identify bonefish spawning sites in places such as Florida, Belize, Cuba, and Mexico. Given that bonefish larvae spend considerable time drifting in ocean currents, identifying and protecting bonefish spawning aggregations throughout the region could be vitally important to the health of local bonefish populations.
Please consider donating to support the Bahamas Initiative, regional spawning research, and by reporting possible spawning locations.