Any fisherman who’s spent much time on the water knows that healthy habitats are essential to having quality fisheries. Unfortunately, too few anglers truly understand how habitat loss has negatively impacted the fisheries, and even fewer are doing anything about it. If anglers want to ensure there are recreational fisheries in the years to come, they need to become involved in protecting the habitats that produce our coastal fisheries.
Most gamefish species have at least one life stage that is especially vulnerable to habitat loss and degradation. For most coastal species, the juveniles are most at risk. Tarpon are a good example. Adults use most coastal and coastal ocean habitats, and are able, to some extent, to adapt to changes in coastal habitats. But even these changes can be troublesome – changes in freshwater flow into estuaries, for example, changes patterns in baitfish abundance, which in turn impacts tarpon migrations and feeding. Most troublesome is that juveniles are the most at risk from habitat loss – they are dependent upon shallow mangrove and marsh backwaters for the first year or two of their lives. These habitats are already a mere shadow of the past, and loss and degradation continues. Without these habitats, few juvenile tarpon survive, and the future fishery suffers.
Our Juvenile Tarpon Habitat Initiative taking place in Florida and South Carolina will help us learn more about juvenile tarpon habitat and effective restoration so we can replicate it on a broader scale. We are conducting a juvenile tarpon habitat mapping effort to identify juvenile habitat and prioritize for protection and restoration.
As part of our Florida Keys Initiative, we are working with guides and anglers to identify and evaluate the health of critical habitat in the Keys (juvenile, sub-adult, adult and spawning), study movement and migration patterns of bonefish, tarpon and permit, and do a comprehensive evaluation of water quality on the flats.
Through our Bahamas Initiative, we are working with collaborators to identify and study bonefish habitat and habitat use, and worked together with Bahamas National Trust to create National Parks to protect bonefish spawning habitat from development. We are continuing to work to identify and protect more critical habitat at risk from development. These efforts will also help inform our work in other parts of the world and is critical to our work with Keys bonefish.
Through our Fix Our Water Campaign we are working to educate the public about the critical water issues in the state of Florida, and advocate for immediate action to fix the water and avert a further environmental crisis.
Through programs like Permit Acoustic Tagging, Tarpon Acoustic Tagging and other tag-recapture efforts for bonefish, tarpon and permit, we are gathering important information about habitat use to help inform future management efforts.