Fieldwork

Researchers travel to the Bahamas to conduct collaborative fieldwork for the Bonefish Recruitment Dynamics and Genetic Population Structure Study.

Bonefish Research on Andros, February 2016 

Measuring a bonefish

A successful research trip to Andros Island in The Bahamas was recently completed which focused on intensive data collection for the bonefish recruitment and genetic population structure study. Participants included Dr. Liz Wallace (FWRI), Chris Haak (Fisheries Conservation Foundation), and Drs. Aaron Shultz and Jocelyn Curtis-Quick (Cape Eleuthera Institute). Additional assistance was provided by guides Mark Bastian and Alvin Green, and the project is supported by Bonefish and Tarpon Trust.

Andros supports a very popular bonefish catch and release fishery, making it an important location for our recruitment study. Much of the area is contained within the West Side National Park, and possesses expansive bights which provide a tremendous amount of bonefish habitat. Researchers used light traps to collect bonefish larvae and a fine mesh seine net to collect juveniles, providing important data for the genetic study while also identifying critical settlement habitat.

Results from this study will establish the geographic scale of recruitment- vital information needed for effective management and conservation. The data collected from Andros will be combined with other locations across The Bahamas as well as across the Caribbean region to assess the sources of recruitment to local fisheries. The study will highlight whether a local, regional, or combined approach to conservation and restoration will be most effective for this valuable fishery.

The trip also offered the opportunity to discuss our research with Mark, Alvin, Doug Saunders, and other local bonefishing guides. They all expressed concern about the health of the fishery, and are skilled at best handling practices. Minimizing air exposure is critical for survival- bonefish can’t breathe out of water. It was great to hear firsthand their concerns, get feedback, and discuss the benefits of our work on the fishery.      

 

Northern Exumas Expedition June 2015

Bonefish fieldwork in Exuma

This research expedition to the northern Exuma cays in The Bahamas focused on adult and larval collections for the bonefish recruitment and genetic population study. Participants included Dr. Liz Wallace (FWRI); collaborators from the Cape Eleuthera Institute: Aaron Shultz, Zach Zuckerman, Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick, and Eric Schneider; as well as volunteers Forrest Thomas and Manex Newton.

Researchers used light traps to collect bonefish leptocephalus larvae and a seine net for adults. The team collected 300 bonefish larvae from the area, identifying critical larval settlement habitat on several cays. In addition, more than 80 adult bonefish were collected. These fish were tagged with uni quely numbered dart tags, fin clipped for genetic analysis, and released.

These data will be incorporated into the growing dataset from across the Caribbean. It will provide important information on population connectivity between The Bahamas and greater Caribbean region, and how recruitment varies between generations of bonefish.

Bonefish fieldwork

Results from this study (funded by partners Bonefish and Tarpon Trust) will establish if recruitment of bonefish is from local, regional, or a combination of these sources– a critical information need for management and conservation. This will help focus conservation efforts in the appropriate places (local and/or regional). The results may also provide support for proposed marine reserves and be beneficial for limiting critical habitat loss in settlement habitat, adult spawning sites, and migratory routes.
 

 


Grand Bahama Expedition April 2015

juvenile bonefish

Dr. Liz Wallace (Fish and Wildlife Research Institute) traveled to Grand Bahama to conduct intensive field work for the bonefish recruitment dynamics and genetic population structure study. Justin Lewis (Bonefish & Tarpon Trust) and Dr. Karen Murchie (College of the Bahamas) assisted with bonefish collection efforts. The main focus of this fieldwork was to locate important recruitment sites and collect leptocephalus larvae during inshore migration and post-settlement juvenile bonefish. Leptocephalus refers to the type of larvae of bonefish, tarpon, ladyfish, and eels. They are small, nearly transparent and planktonic for an extended period (up to 2 years for some species of eel).

Researchers used light traps to collect the bonefish larvae and a fine mesh seine net to collect juveniles. The team collected 38 juvenile bonefish and more than 200 bonefish larvae from Grand Bahama and the Cross Cays near Abaco.  These locations were identified as critical juvenile habitat.

Fieldwork in Grand Bahama

This data will provide important information on population connectivity between The Bahamas and greater Caribbean region, and how much that connectivity may vary between generations of bonefish.

In addition to collecting data for the genetic study, the team assisted with adult tagging and acoustic tracking efforts for the Bahamas Initiative, a partnership focused on conserving coastal flats ecosystems and their fisheries. Researchers collected, tagged and fin clipped 88 adult bonefish for genetic analysis from Grand Bahama. Out of those sampled, there were 20 recaptured fish. This provides additional data on fish movements in the area.

Results from this study will establish the geographic scale of recruitment – a critical information need for management and conservation. This will help focus conservation and restoration efforts in the appropriate places (local and/or regional). The results may also provide support for proposed marine reserves and be beneficial for limiting critical habitat loss through proposed coastal development activities in juvenile recruitment habitat, adult spawning sites, and migratory routes.

The study is funded by Bonefish and Tarpon Trust. Deep Water Cay lodge supported the trip by providing a boat and guide Bill Lang’s expertise for two days of field work targeted the Cross Cays and Northern Abaco. Anglers from Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures assisted by collecting fin clips from bonefish caught during their visit. The research team also met with guides and anglers from H2O Bonefishing and North Riding Point Club. It provided a great opportunity for discussion of the project goals, related study results, and importance of the study. It was a great way to foster open communication and express our gratitude for their ongoing support of bonefish research.

 

Exuma Expedition February 2015

Seine net in the Bahamas

The expedition included Dr. Liz Wallace (FWC), Aaron Shultz, Dr. Owen O’Shea, Alexio Brown, Georgiana Burruss, and Adrian Feiler from the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI). The three CEI interns recently arrived from Massachusetts, Germany, and Nassau, Bahamas. This trip offered a terrific opportunity for them to obtain experience in fisheries field research. In addition to collecting bonefish data for the genetic study, the team assisted Dr. O’Shea in collecting data for his new southern stingray population study.

Research entailed seining for adult bonefish in the creek systems and flats along Hummingbird Cay, Great Exuma, and other neighboring cays. Individual fish received a unique tag to allow future collection of recapture data. A small fin clip was also taken from the dorsal of each fish to allow genetic analysis, prior to their release at the site of capture. In total, 256 fish were collected from across the area. The genetic data will be combined with that from other locations across the Caribbean and western Atlantic to investigate sources of recruitment to local fisheries.

While on Great Exuma, the team also met with local bonefishing guides. It provided a great opportunity for informal discussion of the project timeline, goals, related study results, and applications. The meeting also allowed researchers to seek their input on fishery issues, get feedback on any project related concerns or questions. It was a productive event and a great way to foster open and constructive communication.

The results of this study will establish the geographic scale of recruitment - a critical information need for management and conservation. This will help to focus conservation and restoration efforts in the correct places (local and/or regional).

Results may also provide support for proposed protected marine areas and be beneficial for limiting critical habitat loss through proposed coastal development activities in key areas.

The Hummingbird Cay (HBC) Foundation supported the trip by providing lodging for the research team on the island, boats to access collection sites and on-island staff for logistical support. The Exuma Foundation also supported the trip by providing lodging for the end of the trip, boat access, and staff logistical support.

 



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