Piecing Together the Puzzle
Bonefish research is much the same as fishing for them: Just when you think you’ve got them all figured out, they humble you. Even so, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust’s scientists remain focused and persistent – and it’s paying off.
It wasn’t very long ago that everyone believed the Caribbean-Western Atlantic population of bonefish targeted by anglers was only one species – Albula vulpes. All that changed in 2001 when another species of bonefish was identified known as Albula species B, more popularly called Albula Garcia. In late 2008, BTT-supported scientists using fin clips learned of a third species of bonefish on the flats of the Caribbean.
More genetic samples are needed in additional locations, so please help out if you can. We’ve received fin clippings from the Florida Keys, The Bahamas, Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Belize, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico and Turks & Caicos. Samples from new areas will give us a better determination of how often each of these species is caught by recreational anglers. We can also begin to learn how bonefish populations throughout the Caribbean are related, which is essential information for bonefish conservation and management.
As if trying to figure out which bonefish species support the fishery isn’t difficult enough, recent research threw another wrench into the mix. In order to determine habitats used by juvenile bonefish, we caught a lot of the youngsters along sandy beaches in the Florida Keys and Belize. But when we tested them genetically, we discovered that over 95 percent were the second species – Albula species B.
If we still believed only one species of shallow-water bonefish inhabited the Caribbean, our discovery of juveniles would have seemingly solved the puzzle. But going down that road would’ve focused conservation efforts on sandy beaches as important juvenile bonefish habitats. In so doing, the actual habitats of juvenile Albula vulpes may never have been discovered. Thanks to the genetic work, we’re instead moving in the right direction.
In 2009 we’re resuming our search for juvenile Albula vulpes. We’re especially concerned about finding juvenile bonefish habitats because the young ones usually take the brunt of coastal habitat degradation that threatens coastal gamefish. Our research will take place in the Florida Keys, The Bahamas and Belize. Hopefully we can find juvenile Albula vulpes this time around and get to work on protecting their habitats.