BTT's objective is to protect and enhance critical flats habitats, reverse the decline of flats species, and use research findings to influence policy, educate the fishing community and improve resource management for long-term stewardship. BTT has many ongoing and completed research projects and initiatives that have achieved significant results in our efforts to learn about, protect and restore bonefish, tarpon and permit fisheries and habitats. Very little was known about the three species when BTT was founded, and scientific results from our efforts are critical to informing fisheries management and educating the public.
BTT has provided funding for and conducted projects that have provided information essential for conservation and led to a number of tangible conservation outcomes.
- Working with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, bonefish was made catch and release in Florida.
- In The Bahamas, six spawning sites have been identified. Bonefish spawn offshore, at night, near full and new moons between late October and April.
- Home range and spawning location data were used to create National Parks to protect these important habitats from future development.
- Tag-recapture of bonefish in Florida, Bahamas, Belize, Mexico, Cuba demonstrates that bonefish have a small home range.
- >75% of bonefish are recaptured within 1km of where they were tagged.
- Tag-recapture studies and tracking with acoustic tags determined that bonefish migrate long distances from their home range to spawning locations.
- Round-trip spawning migrations of >100 miles appear to be common.
- Studies of catch and release resulted in the creation of the Best Practices for Catch and Release brochures to educate guides and anglers so that bonefish survive catch and release.
- An economic impact study showed that the annual economic impact of the recreational bonefish fishery in The Bahamas exceeds $141 million.
- Three species of bonefish occur in the shallow waters of the Caribbean
- Albula vulpes (Common Bonefish) is 95% of the fishery
- Albula goriensis (Bigeye Bonefish) is <4% of the fishery
- Albula sp (not yet named) is <1% of the fishery
- Since different species have different habitat requirements, this information is essential to creating a viable conservation strategy.
- For example, Bigeye Bonefish juvenile habitats are sandy beaches, where this species is >96% of juvenile bonefish (Common Bonefish are also present, but only <4%)
- Given the results of this genetic analysis, BTT’s efforts focus on Albula vulpes.
- Juvenile Albula vulpes rely on open bottoms of sand or mud in protected bays adjacent to ocean currents that deliver larvae to these areas.
- Bonefish in the Florida Keys grow two to three times faster than in the Caribbean.
- A 23” bonefish in the Florida Keys = 6 years old
- A 23” bonefish in the Caribbean = 16 years old
- This has implications for management because size and age of bonefish in the fishery is a good indicator of population health
- Ongoing work suggests that artificial light, such as from streetlights, alters juvenile bonefish behavior. This could have consequences for the health of juvenile bonefish in areas that have a lot of artificial light, such as the Florida Keys.
- Conversations with scientific colleagues and guides in Cuba suggest that in some areas bonefish spawning aggregations have been targeted by nets for harvest. Given that bonefish larvae are in the open ocean as plankton for 42 – 72 days, there is concern that the harvest of spawning bonefish in Cuba may impact the Florida Keys bonefish population.
Research of catch and release impacts on tarpon showed that tarpon >40” are more susceptible to handling.
- This information was used to make tarpon catch and release in Florida
- Tarpon >40” can’t be removed from the water
- Tarpon must be released at the site of capture
- A tarpon can be harvested if the angler or guide possesses a harvest tag and is submitting the tarpon for an IGFA world record
- Satellite tagging demonstrated that adult tarpon are capable of long-distance migrations (interstate and international).
- A portion of the adult tarpon population undergo long seasonal migrations
- A portion appear to remain in smaller home ranges.
- Larval sampling and satellite tagging have identified three likely spawning locations.
- 120 miles offshore from Boca Grande, FL
- Off the coast of Louisiana near the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
- Off the coast of southeast FL
- The Juvenile Tarpon Habitat Initiative is focused on restoring and protecting juvenile tarpon habitats.
- Three restoration projects in Florida are ongoing
- One project in South Carolina is ongoing
- BTT is consulting with resource management agencies on 2 projects
Working with FWC, we improved regulations for permit in Florida.
- The Florida Keys is a Special Permit Zone
- No harvest during spawning season
- No commercial bycatch
- Strict size and bag limits
- Juvenile permit require sandy, windward beaches as nursery habitat.
- After spawning and eggs hatching, permit larvae live in the open water as plankton for 15 – 18 days
- This suggests that some permit larvae may be coming to Florida from other locations (e.g., Caribbean)
- Tag-recapture shows a mix in movement patterns
- Most permit are recaptured within a few miles of where they were tagged
- Some permit travel long distances between tag and recapture locations
- Economic studies show the importance of the flats fishery and help BTT advocate for effective management of the fisheries.
- Florida Keys = $465 million annual impact
- Florida Everglades = $991 million
- Charlotte Harbor tarpon fishery = $110 million
- Bahamas bonefish fishery = $141 million
- Belize flats fishery = $56 million
- Stuart, FL region tarpon fishery = $33 million
- Based on economic data, the Belize flats fishery was made catch and release.
- Working with guide associations and FWC, barracuda regulations were improved in the Florida Keys.
- BTT hosts the International Bonefish & Tarpon Symposium every three years, the only event of its kind bringing together scientists, guides, anglers and resource managers. BTT has hosted and sponsored five symposia to date.
- Working with guides and anglers in the Florida Keys, established fishing area maps that are being used as conservation data in ongoing Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary management revisions. This will ensure angler access to the flats.
- Worked with guides, anglers, Everglades National Park to revise spatial management zones (pole/troll, idle speed, etc.).
- Now working with ENP and GPS companies to put these maps on GPS platforms for boaters to encourage safe boating and habitat protection.
- Developed relationships with colleagues in Cuba to help them in flats conservation efforts.