For the first time ever, bonefish were recently spawned in captivity. It took four years for researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s (FAU) Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute to achieve the breakthrough that enabled successful spawning in aquaculture tanks. The information gathered during the process will help inform management of this important species for anglers. The potential for captive breeding of bonefish could become a powerful tool for conservation.
The speed, power and predatory instincts of bonefish make them a favorite target for flats anglers and especially fly fishers. In many places they exist, bonefish are the backbone of economically important recreational fisheries. Despite their importance, bonefish face challenges due to habitat loss and degradation. Understanding the life cycle of this enigmatic species is crucial to restoring fisheries.
“Bonefish populations have been declining in recent years, with estimates showing a decrease of as much as 90 percent in some areas, including the Florida Keys,” said James Sullivan, Ph.D., executive director, FAU’s Harbor Branch. “Our scientists are close to gaining a full understanding of the bonefish life cycle, which will enable the targeted approach to conservation and restoration that is necessary to ensure the future of the fishery and the economic, social and recreational benefits it provides.”
In addition to successfully spawning bonefish, FAU researchers have reduced the time between spawns from the annual natural cycle to about four months. Research is no longer reliant on waiting for natural spawning once a year.
Aquaculture scientists at FAU’s Harbor Branch embarked on the $3 million grant-funded project in 2016, which was designed to help Florida’s sport fishing industry. The research was funded by a grant from BTT in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The project is the first of its kind involving the design and testing of an experimental research project to grow bonefish in captivity to understand the bonefish life cycle, which will aid conservation efforts. BTT uses a science-based approach to learn about and identify threats to bonefish, tarpon and permit fisheries in the United States and Caribbean basin and applies a combination of research, stewardship, education and advocacy efforts to address areas of concern.
Knowledge and methodologies gained through the bonefish reproductive study will be shared across the scientific community and with partner agencies charged with fish and wildlife management.
Reporting by Gisele Galoustin, media relations director, research at FAU. For more information and to read the entire story, see www.fau.edu.