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Dry Tortugas Hogfish Study

A diver performs surgery on a fish underwater while a second diver holds the fish in place.

Scientists tag a hogfish underwater

FWRI scientists from the South Florida Regional Lab in the Florida Keys have partnered with Dry Tortugas National Park to study hogfish in a no-take marine reserve of the Park. This no-take marine reserve, known as the Research Natural Area, has been protected since 2007. This means that for the past 15 years there has been no anchoring and no fishing allowed in this 46 square mile reserve. This is the closest FWC scientists will get to studying an unfished population of hogfish in south Florida and is critically important for establishing a baseline for hogfish movement and food web interactions without the effects of fishing pressure. This baseline will ensure that FWC is able to provide the best management of the hogfish fishery.

Florida Keys scientists have a multi-faceted approach to describe how these hogfish behave and grow over time. During this two-year study, they are using acoustic telemetry, gathering growth and maturity data, and examining stable isotopes in different tissues.

Acoustic telemetry is when the movement of a fish with a surgically implanted acoustic tag is tracked over time. By tracking hogfish, FWC scientists hope to better understand how home ranges, habitat use, and spawning and foraging patterns change over time.

Hogfish Telemetry in Dry Tortugas National Park

FWRI scientists have partnered with Dry Tortugas National Park to study hogfish in a no-take marine reserve of the Park that has been protected since 2007.

A view from on the water of a large building surrounded on all sides by water and white sand.

Scientists have a special permit that allows them to collect hogfish inside the Research Natural Area for life history samples. Understanding what a unique opportunity this is, scientists are making the most of it by not just recording weight and length measurements, but by also sampling many different parts of the fish. Multiple samples are taken from each fish and can include gonads, muscle tissues, eye tissue, fin clips, and liver samples.  These samples will be analyzed to estimate maturity and use stable isotope analysis to reveal changes in the role of hogfish in the food web over time.

Having protected places like the Research Area in Dry Tortugas National Park are important not only because they protect parts of the ecosystem and the animals that depend on them, but they also provide scientists with unique opportunities to better understand how these ecosystems behave with little human use, such as with this hogfish study. This baseline information will be vital for comparison with other parts of Florida, especially since managers made changes in hogfish regulations in 2017 to help reduce the impact of overharvesting on this species. View more information on current hogfish recreational regulations.