AMHERST, Mass. Bonefish, sometimes called the gray ghost, are among the most elusive and highly prized quarry of recreational anglers in the Florida Keys, the Bahamas and similar tropical habitats around the world. Now a research team including fish ecologist Andy Danylchuk of the University of Massachusetts Amherst has documented rarely seen pre-spawning behavior in bonefish, which should aid future conservation efforts.
Habitat degradation and overfishing by uncontrolled netting threaten the bonefish, yet recreational fishing for this group of fishes is worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually, say scientists. Danylchuk and Aaron Adams, director of operations for Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (BTT) at the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) where Adams is also an assistant research professor, are scrambling to identify and protect critical habitats and identify other ways to conserve the fishery.
With others, Adams and Danylchuk recently tracked a school of more than 10,000 bonefish as they completed the final stages of spawning migrations in the Bahamas. This week Adams shared results with the Bahamas Ministry of the Environment and conservation collaborators Bahamas National Trust and The Nature Conservancy.
Using special tracking tags they had inserted earlier into individual bonefish, the researchers report that starting in mid-afternoon, the school swirls like a tornado in water 30 feet deep. Normally found on the sea bottom in shallow waters, at this stage some of the school rush up and porpoise, gulping air as they break the surface. Bumping against each other in this pre-spawning behavior, they must avoid sharks, barracuda and Cubera snappers stalking them.
As night falls, the fish quicken their pace and head for the dropoff at the reef edge, where water depth quickly exceeds 1,000 feet. The team tracked the bonefish as they descended past 160 feet and drifting about one-quarter mile from the drop-off. Now sus
|Contact: Janet Lathrop|
University of Massachusetts at Amherst