A permit tagged in the Lower Keys by LKGA member Capt. Will Benson and BTT scientist Dr. Ross Boucek for Project Permit. Photo: Ian Wilson
The Lower Keys Guides Association (LKGA) voted on January 23 to renew funding of Bonefish & Tarpon Trust’s science-based program to conserve the Lower Keys’ iconic permit fishery, setting the stage for increased collaboration between the two organizations.
“The Lower Keys Guides Association is pleased to announce a commitment to providing ongoing funding to Bonefish & Tarpon Trust through the March Merkin permit tournament,” said LKGA President Andrew Tipler. “When LKGA took over the Merkin there was a 5-year commitment to donate 50% of the proceeds to BTT. Looking to the future of this fishery, LKGA’s board of directors polled the guide membership. The guides responded with a resounding yes vote and LKGA is pleased to renew the support. We look forward to continuing to work with BTT on issues that have such importance to the health of the fishery.”
LKGA has supported Bonefish & Tarpon Trust for more than 12 years through its March Merkin Permit Tournament held annually in Key West. Past funding provided by LKGA was instrumental to the success of Project Permit, a decade-long research initiative sponsored by COSTA. BTT partnered with LKGA in Project Permit to use guide expertise and science to identify and resolve threats to the permit fishery in the Florida Keys.
BTT and LKGA have worked with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to implement a special regulatory zone in the Florida Keys to reduce harvest pressure on permit, and also a seasonal no-fishing closure at Western Dry Rocks, the most important permit spawning site in the Keys. This closure was needed because Project Permit research demonstrated that over one third of permit hooked at Western Dry Rocks were eaten by sharks prior to being landed. Work to further conserve the fishery continues with the Permit Spawning Monitoring Program, which tracks the recovery of spawning permit at Western Dry Rocks, and evaluates stresses to spawning permit at other sites throughout the Keys.
“The partnership and collaboration between LKGA and BTT have catalyzed unprecedented positive change for our fisheries and the habitats that support them, and this is just the beginning,” said Dr. Ross Boucek, BTT Florida Keys Initiative Manager. “It is a tremendous honor to know that we are continuing this productive collaboration. Working with LKGA guides is one of the best parts of my job!”
In recent months, BTT and LKGA have also worked closely to support a set of science-based recommendations for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) Restoration Blueprint that underscore the critical importance of habitat, water quality and enforcement—all to ensure that our shallow water habitats are adequately protected while also providing for responsible access. The Lower Keys, the recommendations from BTT and LKGA would increase seagrass and hard bottom protections by 1427 and 127 acres respectively.