January 25, 2018
Bonefish have now been observed attempting to reproduce in captivity, a new development in marine fisheries science. As reported by our friends (and yours) at the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, schools of Albula Vulpes have been recorded exhibiting spawning behavior in the large aquariums at the Atlantis Resort in Nassau, Bahamas.
Bonefish, a favorite target species for salt water fly rod anglers, have global tropical distribution but are a major focus of an extremely developed and mature sport fishery in the Caribbean ocean. Fisherman from around the world travel to area resorts and employ local guide services in pursuit of a fish that can sprint at over 50 mph when hooked. Along with Tarpon and Permit, Bonefish are part of the highly prized "Caribbean Grand Slam", where anglers catch -- and release -- a specimen of all three species in a days fishing.
Despite the sporting and economic importance that Bonefish represent to the region, little is known about their reproductive and migratory habits.
Recent press from the BTT reports, "Over the past ten years Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, working alongside our many collaborators, has gained valuable insight into bonefish spawning behavior, but there is still a lot we don't know. One way we're trying to decipher the riddles of bonefish spawning is through the Bonefish Restoration Research Project, a collaboration with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and Florida Atlantic University's (FAU) Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, which aims to spawn and rear bonefish in captivity. Spawning and rearing bonefish in captivity will help us understand the ecological and physiological requirements for bonefish to spawn, as well as for the survival of their eggs and larvae."
After hearing rumors that schools of captive specimens at the Atlantis Resort appeared to be engaging in reproductive activity, members of the BTT inquired with management at the private aquarium and were shown video footage that backed up the claim. The aquarium at Atlantis is big enough to accommodate large numbers specimens of a given species, which seems to drive spawning behavior in Bonefish when total school size reaches a certain point. This would be supported by anecdotal reports from guides observing pre-spawning schools of several hundred fish staging in the wild for spawning in deep water.
After coordinating with project member organizations, Bonefish Restoration Research Project researchers mounted a collection expedition to the Berry Islands, and working with local guide Percy Darville netted over 200 fish which were transferred to the Atlantis tanks unharmed. Members and volunteers included Dave Wert (Atlantis Aquarium Director), Todd Kemp (Atlantis Head Collector), Vernel Ching (Atlantis Aquarists), Justin Lewis (BTT Bahamas Initiative Manager), and Nina Sanchez (Bahamian student and BTT research assistant)
BTT staff reports, "Our hope is that the bonefish added to the aquarium will help trigger spawning activity in the near future, which will help us gain a better understanding of bonefish spawning behavior. This information will be directly applicable to ongoing efforts to identify and protect bonefish spawning locations in the Bahamas, and will also inform the work that is ongoing at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute."
Readers should please consider making a tax deductible donation to the efforts of the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, in the interest of maintaining the sustainable health of all species Caribbean sport fish.