Project Permit

jonainphoto-first tagged permit

This project is made possible by the support of Costa Del Mar and the March Merkin Permit Tournament, and has expanded to Mexico and Belize thanks to Costa Del Mar and Sunbrella and a number of lodges.

Despite the economic value of the recreational permit fishery in Florida and the wider Caribbean, there has never been a stock assessment, and even basic data are lacking (fishing effort, harvest, habitat use, migration patterns, age structure, growth rates).  Some anecdotal evidence suggests a decline in the fishery in Florida, but without fisheries data there is no way to verify or refute the anecdotal reports. The pseudo-stock assessment conducted in 1996 states “there are little data available with which to assess the condition of the permit stock(s)”, and the data status is unchanged in 2010. Moreover, the decline in stocks of groupers, snappers, and other species that overlap in habitat use with permit appears to have shifted recreational fishing effort toward permit in some locations, which may lead to serial overfishing (overfishing species one by one).

In Florida, the permit fishery is very diverse, ranging from sight fishing on flats with fly rods to fishing on offshore reefs with conventional gear.  Similarly, some sectors of the fishery are catch and release while others harvest permit.  Therefore the user group ‘recreational’ can be parsed into smaller, better defined groups.  To a great extent these sectors are also geographically separated, with flats fishing occurring in the Florida Keys, and offshore fishing occurring in areas north of the Keys. Much of the effort on offshore reefs focuses on what are likely spawning aggregations of permit, where harvest may cause problems in the future.

Project Permit is also now active in Mexico and Belize, thanks to Costa and support from Sunbrella. Two lodges in Belize – El Pescador and Belize River Lodge – and numerous locations in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.

Rather than follow what might be termed a typical fisheries management approach of imposing management regulations after a fishery declines, the collaborative approach will obtain data while the fishery appears to be in relatively good health, and will involve user groups in collection of the data.  The data can then be applied to an adaptive, proactive management approach.

The first step in Project Permit is to determine the spatial dynamics of the fish and fishery. This is being done via a 5-year tagging program in which guides and anglers are engaged in tagging permit with dart tags. Data on tag and recapture locations will be used to estimate movement patterns, and thus define the geographic scale most appropriate for management. Length data from tag and recapture reports will provide the first information on the size structure of the permit fishery. Future work will examine effects of catch and release on permit, improve estimates of fishing effort and harvest, examine factors associated with spawning, develop a better understanding of permit age and growth, and determine the economic value of the fishery.

The success of the tagging program relies heavily on angler participation throughout Florida and the Caribbean. It’s not presently known how far permit move on a regular basis. Do they move long distances like tarpon or mostly stay close to home like bonefish? Figuring out this basic information is the first step toward formulating a strong comprehensive plan for this fantastic game fish.

“Anyone who has permit fished before can tell you about the art and skill needed to catch them,” said Al Perkinson, vice president of marketing for Costa. “It’s something we want to make sure future anglers have a chance to try, which is why the data from this tagging program are so important. Our objective is to help form policy that protects and conserves permit for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.”

Send an email to if you would like to participate in Project Permit.


1) Determine the population health, economic and biological value of the Bahamas fishery to contribute to conservation of the fishery and habitats

2) Engage fishing guides and lodge owners in conservation education using research as an education tool

3) Assist fishing guides and lodge owners in the formulation of a fishery conservation plan for bonefish and bonefish habitats

Background and Justification

1) Sufficient information is lacking on permit biology and fisheries in all locations where a fishery exists. Information to support management is urgently needed.

2) Threats to permit include loss and degradation of juvenile habitat, unknown impacts of harvest and catch and release, lack of protection for spawning grounds.


Worked with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to improve permit regulations, including implementation of a Special Permit Zone (SPZ) from Biscayne Bay south to protect permit from harvest during spawning season. The tagging work is ongoing and the information we are gathering will help us determine whether current regulations are sufficient to sustain the fishery in the long-term.

Please email if you would like to donate to this initiative or become a Corporate Sponsor.