Bonefish study

Several factors suggested for bonefish decline


A study contended that many possibilities might share the blame for the decline of a sport fish that is vital to the Florida Keys economy.

A decline in prey like shrimp and crabs is not the main cause of the drop in bonefish populations in Florida Bay, according to a one-year study conducted by Audubon Florida and funded by the nonprofit Bonefish Tarpon Trust.

The study by researchers Pete Frezza, Shawn Liston, Jerry Lorenz and Michelle Robinson suggests other factors — the diversion and quality of freshwater delivered to Florida Bay; toxins in bottom sediments; pollutants from farms and yards; increased boating pressure; mercury contamination; and ocean acidification — might share the blame for the decline of a sport fish that pumps $427 million annually into the Florida Keys economy.

“While a decrease in prey may likely have been part of the cause of the decline since the 1980s [and perhaps even earlier], prey abundance alone does not appear to explain the dramatic decline in Florida Bay bonefish that has occurred in recent years [since 2006],” the authors wrote.

Protected areas

The researchers recommend implementing marine-protected areas for bonefish such as pole/troll and catch-and-release-only zones in Everglades National Park and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. They endorse Everglades restoration initiatives, such as bridging the Tamiami Trail and completing the second phase of the C-111 project to improve the quality and quantity of freshwater flowing into Florida Bay.

The study — conducted in 2012 — compared flats in the Lower Keys, Upper Keys and Biscayne Bay to see if creatures bonefish eat — such as blue crabs, pink shrimp, toadfish and others — were less abundant than in the 1980s and ’90s when initial research by other scientists was conducted. The Audubon researchers measured sea grass cover and collected prey at each site.

They found that Sawyer Key in the Lower Keys had more prey and more bonefish while the Upper Keys had fewer prey and fewer bones. But when they compared the numbers with those from the earlier studies, they found no real decline in prey at those sites.

“It certainly wasn’t a smoking gun,” Aaron Adams, operations director at Bonefish Tarpon Trust, said. “I guess I was a little bit surprised at the lack of difference between the current prey abundance and in the 1980s and ’90s. It just means we have to step back and look at other possibilities.”

Further research

Adams said the Trust is looking into conducting further research, such as “what if there’s something in the water that’s interfering with bonefish’s ability to reproduce.” He suggested examining bottom sediments for contaminants and sampling the fish themselves to see if they are absorbing harmful toxins. Future projects might include trying to raise bonefish in captivity then restocking them.

“Once we can figure out the causes, we can begin work on restoring the bonefish population,” he said.

Read more Outdoors stories from the Miami Herald

Greg Shaughnessy, left, and Dillon Justice show off a large snook they caught and released using a SpoolTek lure in Jupiter Inlet.


    New SpoolTek lure catches monster snook in dark of night

    There’s an oft-repeated bromide that nothing good happens after 2 a.m., but that’s not necessarily true when it comes to snook fishing. Snook angler extraordinaire/fishing tackle maker Dave Justice insisted that that’s when he, his son Dillon, 18, employee Greg Shaughnessy and I should test his latest innovation, the SpoolTek, for catching huge linesiders in Jupiter Inlet.

  • Fishing Report

    South Florida fishing report: Aug. 20, 2014

    Captain Jimbo Thomas from the charter boat Thomas Flyer out of Miamarina at Bayside reported that large schoolie dolphins have been pretty thick along a giant weedline that has been located between 20 and 25 miles offshore of Miami.

  • South Florida outdoors notebook: Aug. 20, 2014

    Bassbusters Florida will hold silver and gold division team tournaments Saturday and Sunday out of Roland Martin’s Marine Center in Clewiston. Register at 5 a.m. both days. Weigh-ins will begin at 3 p.m. For more information, call Chris Fickey at 941-232-9539.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category