Whether you’re wading the flats of South Andros or poling along in Hawaii, odds are the bonefish you’re going to catch are going to look very similar. Sure, there might be some size differences, and perhaps a difference in color depending on their surrounding environment, but for the most part a bonefish looks like, well, a bonefish.
However, a little known fact about bonefish is that there’s more than one species of bonefish found throughout the world. In fact, twelve different species have been identified worldwide. Who knew?
We certainly didn’t, which is why we turned to Bonefish and Tarpon Trust’s foremost expert on global bonefish, Dr. Liz Wallace for the details.
What Species of Bonefish Did I Catch?
Bonefish are similar in appearance, so genetic identification is necessary to determine the different species. There are 12 species of bonefish that have been identified in the genus albula.
For those fishing in the Atlantic, there are four distinct species. Albula vulpes is the most commonly occurring, and they are the ones you find mostly on the flats. The record Albula vulpes was a 16 pound fish caught in Bimini in 1971. Albula goreensis are the channel bonefish, and are very likely the fish that are caught up the coasts of Florida. If you catch a bonefish near Tampa, it’s likely A. goreensis. Even down in the Keys, people report catching small bonefish in deeper water around reefs, and those are also likely A. goreensis. There are also the less common Lagoon (A. conorhynchus) and Threadfin (A. nemoptera) bonefish in the Atlantic.
If you’re fishing in the Pacific Ocean, which species you catch will vary between the western, eastern and southern regions. Three species are only found in the eastern Pacific, along the coastal Americas: the Eastern Pacific bonefish (A. esuncula), Cortez bonefish (A. gilberti) and Pacific Shafted bonefish (A. pacifica).
One species, A. virgata, has only been documented in Hawaii (though we don’t know if it’s a true Hawaii endemic or if it occurs in low densities in other areas). The other species in Hawaii is the Roundjaw bonefish (A. glossodonta). If you’re catching bonefish on the flats in Hawaii, it’s likely the Roundjaw bonefish. Similar to Albula vulpes and goreensis in the Atlantic, Albula glossodonta and Albula virgata seem to be separated by depth.
Fishing for bonefish in the Seychelles? The smallscale and roundjaw likely coexist (though all the fish Dr. Wallace has analyzed so far have been roundjaw). More information is needed via scale collection.