The Bahamas Initiative Update: South Andros Tagging Trip

IMGP2306In the Fall of 2013, Dr. Zack Jud, a BTT collaborating scientist, traveled to South Andros to lead the first large scale tagging effort on the island. Working together with the guides of Andros South Lodge, the team was able to tag 650 fish over a four day period.

Hoping to continue the success of the 2013 trip, a team consisting of Dr. Aaron Adams (BTT), Justin Lewis (BTT), and Fred Arnett (Bahamas Department of Marine Resources) journeyed to South Andros in January with the hopes of tagging even more bonefish. The team was not only looking to tag fish, but also gather fin clips for genetic analysis as part of the three year Bonefish Genetics Program focused on the genetic makeup of bonefish populations in the Caribbean and Western Atlantic. Determining the genetics of bonefish in the Bahamas is a vital piece of information that will help BTT and fisheries managers in conserving bonefish populations and their habitats in all geographical regions.

This years team was hosted by Bair’s Lodge and used the expertise of the lodge’s local guides to find a lot of fish. Even though the weather wasn’t perfect due to a strong cold front, the team was able to tag and fin clip over 1,000 bonefish. On the first day, due to bad weather, a fast rising tide, and some toothy critters patrolling the flats, over 400 bonefish had to be released from one of the nets before they could be tagged.

One exciting discovery from the trip was a likely pre-spawning aggregation of bonefish; the aggregation consisted of approximately 2,000 bonefish. The fish were observed milling about in a protected deep water bay, exhibiting similar behaviour to fish in other recorded pre-spawning aggregation sites in Abaco, Eleuthera, and Grand Bahama. Between day one and day two the team tagged over 600 fish near the newly discovered pre-spawning aggregation site. One of the fish tagged on the second day at the likely spawning site was recaptured the very next day, 15 miles south of where it was first tagged. Based on our research on Abaco and Grand Bahama, we think this fish likely spawned and then headed home, where we caught it the next day. If so, we’ve already started to connect the likely spawning site to bonefish home ranges, which is exactly the information we need for conservation.

What was odd about the pre-spawning aggregation we observed was its timing. Generally bonefish spawn during the full and new moon phases, but this aggregation occurred during the first quarter moon. This is similar to recent observations in Abaco and Grand Bahama, which suggests that something different is occurring this year. We’ve also received reports from Bahamian fishermen that the Nassau grouper have also been spawning at odd times this year.

Moving forward, we will continue to work with the guides to determine from how far away bonefish travel to get to this site and the migratory pathways that they use. With our continued tagging, genetic sampling, and reporting of recaptures by guides, we hope to answer these questions which will help to protect the fishery on South Andros.

BTT Participates in Everglades National Park’s Boater Education Program Workshop

An early morning boat ride through Everglades National Park.

An early morning boat ride through Everglades National Park.

In early 2015, several stakeholders were invited to a workshop on the Everglades National Park’s Boater Education Program. Individuals representing anglers, paddlers, law enforcement, scientists and more met to develop the program’s objectives and content.

Keeping in mind that Florida Bay makes up about 1/3 of Everglades National Park, stakeholders remained cognizant that visitors using the Park’s marine resources span the range of beginner to life-long expert. The mandatory program therefore aims to educate users on the essentials of resource protection, boater safety and on-the-water etiquette. Apart from the basics, the online version of the program allows the student to delve deeper by offering learn more opportunities, providing supplemental information on topics such as proper fish handling and additional equipment recommended for outings.

The Boater Education Program is one aspect of the revised General Management Plan for Everglades National Park. BTT is happy to take on the challenge, building on our mission of ecosystem-based science and conservation. The information BTT provides to Everglades National Park is targeted to reduce habitat damage and therefore increase habitat and fishery quality.

This workshop is a direct response to years of public comment that called for the education of park users to reduce resource damage and BTT is honored to represent the middle ground at the center of science and angling.

FWC Comes to Keys for Input on Barracuda Feb. 25th

BTT encourages all Keys guides and anglers to participate in the FWC barracuda work shop on February 25 at Key Colony Beach City Hall, 600 W Ocean Dr., Key Colony Beach, FL 33051.

Original post on keysnet.com

On Wednesday State fishery managers want to hear about barracuda numbers and commercial bully-netting at upcoming workshops in the Florida Keys.

Concern about perceived drops in the barracuda population, based on observations primarily from Keys fishing guides and divers, will be reviewed by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff at a 6 p.m. Feb. 25 session at Key Colony Beach City Hall.

“The loudest voices [on barracuda] with most concern are in the Florida Keys,” FWC fishery analyst Melissa Reeks told agency commissioners at a November meeting in Key Largo.

The FWC board dismissed the need for a costly and time-consuming population assessment of barracuda, but agreed to hold workshops to gather opinions on possible rule changes.

Barracuda now have few catch restrictions. Guides fear that a possible surge in the commercial harvest would sharply reduce the numbers of the silver fish that provide excitement for anglers.

Lower Keys Guides Association member Will Benson told the FWC of a “dramatic decline in size and numbers of great barracuda.”

“An unregulated harvest is a recipe for over harvesting,” Benson said.

Bridget McDonald, a Key West conservation advocate, said the FWC’s catch reports show “commercial catch of barracuda in the Florida Keys has increased fivefold in three years, from 10,000 pounds in 2011 to more than 50,000 in 2013.”

In 2013, she said, “Florida Keys waters accounted for 67 percent of the state’s commercial barracuda catch.”

“Barracuda is prized as a strong fighter in sport fishing and is a valuable catch-and-release fish,” said John O’Hearn, president of the Lower Keys Guides.

“The great barracuda is a predator fish, and though it rarely attacks humans, even a small one can provide an adrenaline rush when encountered for the first time by a novice snorkeler, diver or fisherman,” McDonald said.

Fish advocates say they have heard of barracuda being purchased at wholesale for $1 per pound, for resale at significantly higher prices to Caribbean natives accustomed to eating barracuda.

“Basically no regulation now will lead to problems in the future,” said Aaron Adams of the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust. “It’s better to be proactive.”

Three workshops to discuss the status of barracuda in the Florida Keys provide the public an opportunity to share with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation staff anecdotal information about their numbers and habitat.

The workshops, open to the public:

  • Feb. 25 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Key Colony Beach City Hall, 600 W. Ocean Drive.
  • March 3 from 6 to 8 p.m. at International Game Fish Association Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum, 300 Gulf Stream Way, Dania Beach.
  • March 5 from 6 to 8 p.m. in a statewide webinar and telephone conference call. For the webinar, go to http://fwc.adobeconnect.com/mfm/. For voice-only access, send an e-mail to Marine@MyFWC.com or call (850) 487-0554.

Gone Fishin': Jimmy Kimmel, Jim Belushi, Huey Lewis & More Star In Outdoor Channel Fly Fishing TV Series, “Buccaneers & Bones”

Original release from the Outdoor Channel

WHO: Late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel and entertainer Jim Belushi join veteran cast members – venerable newsman Tom Brokaw (narrator), musician Huey Lewis, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, fly fishing legend Lefty Kreh, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust Board member Bill Klyn and award-winning author Tom McGuane – in season five of “Buccaneers & Bones,” a popular fly fishing TV series on Outdoor Channel.

WHAT: “Buccaneers & Bones” is an unscripted travelogue about the fly fishing pursuits of an all-star cast as they head to South Andros Island in the Out Islands of the Bahamas to explore the area’s famed saltwater flats. Produced by Orion Entertainment, the seven-episode series is equal parts casting and reeling action on the water and laughter-filled antics off the water.

The eclectic group from diverse walks of life and professions has one thing in common: a shared passion for the outdoors, especially the sport of fly fishing. While some are angling pros and others novices, the week-long journey inextricably connects them during the trial of the hunt for the perfect fishing spot, the thrill of the catch, and the battle with a worthy opponent – in this case, bonefish – that thrashes at the end of an angler’s line.

“If fishing is a religion, fly fishing is high church.” – Tom Brokaw

“Buccaneers & Bones” doesn’t just chronicle the tales of a band of anglers joined together on the riveting quest for bonefish and mesmeric adventure on the flats in the open seas, the series highlights the effort to preserve nature’s great coastal environments. The show is presented in partnership with the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, an organization made up of anglers and guides seeking to preserve global bonefish, tarpon and permit fisheries through stewardship, research, education and advocacy.

WHY: Join the intrepid “Buccaneers & Bones” anglers on their remarkable foray of discovery in the Bahamas. Prepare to be captivated by the tropical landscape. And watch the thrills of the buccaneers’ unique saltwater angling experience, after all, bonefish are giant, powerful fighters.

“Buccaneers & Bones” also captures the real sense of camaraderie among the group as they catch and cook wild crabs, learn how to open conch shells and visit a local Bahamian bar. Kimmel gets an expert casting lesson from Kreh. Kimmel and Belushi catch their very first bonefish. And, during his struggle reeling in his line, Belushi walks off the boat…backwards…straight into the water.

WHEN: The new season of “Buccaneers & Bones” premieres on Saturday, February 21 at 5:00 p.m. ET as part of Outdoor Channel’s winter/spring programming lineup.

WHERE: Exclusively on Outdoor Channel.

Check local listings or log on to www.OutdoorChannel.com for show schedules. To find out how to get the network in your area, go to www.OutdoorChannel.com/channelfinder or call (855) 44-OUTDOOR.

– See more at: http://outdoorchannel.com/pressrelease.aspx?id=28772#sthash.CVs3oMlW.dpuf

Chris Haak to speak at AMFF’s first annual Deborah Pratt Dawson Conservation Symposium

amff-logoBTT contributing scientist Christopher Haak will be presenting at the American Museum of Fly Fishing’s first annual Deborah Pratt Dawson Conservation Symposium. The Symposum will be held on March 14th and 15th at the Orvis Fly Fishing School in Manchester, Vermont and the topic for the event will be the use of new technology in aiding conservation efforts.

The symposium will also feature speakers from the national chapter of Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, Inter-Fluve, the Batten Kill Watershed Alliance, and the Atlantic Salmon Federation. The event will begin at the Orvis Fly Fishing School with registration and a light breakfast at 8 a.m. on March 14th. Event emcee Jim Heckman will introduce the keynote speaker, Dr. Michael Cooperman. Dr. Cooperman will be followed by presentations from Cynthia Browning of the Batten Kill Watershed Alliance and Jon Carr of the Atlantic Salmon Federation. Following lunch, presentations continue with Christopher Haak of Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, Amy Singler of American Rivers, and Nick Nelson of Interfluve. Event participants will have the opportunity to join the conversation with an interactive question and answer session after each presentation. Following the presentations there will be a closing reception starting at 5 p.m. at the American Museum of Fly Fishing and concluding at 7 p.m. The event continues the following morning with a light breakfast and conservation films shown at Manchester Village Picture Shows.

The cost of a weekend ticket is only $50 with admission to all presentations, movies, and food included. The AMFF is offering a reduced rate of $45 for educators and college students with proper I.D. Weekend tickets are also available at a Benefactor level $100 (with $50 as a tax-deductible donation) and Sponsor at $250 (with $200 as a tax-deductible donation). Sunday-only tickets are available for $20, which includes admission to the films at Manchester Village Picture Shows and lunch at the Orvis Fly Fishing School. The AMFF has secured $99 a night pricing at the Manchester View Inn for event attendees. There are also discounted rates available at the Aspen, the Barnstead Inn, and the Inn at Manchester. Please mention the symposium when calling these three lodging areas to secure your discounted rate.

About the American Museum of Fly Fishing:

The American Museum of Fly Fishing is the steward of the history, traditions, and practices of the sport of fly fishing and promotes the conservation of its waters. The Museum collects, preserves, exhibits, studies, and interprets the artifacts, art, and literature of the sport and uses these resources to engage, educate, and benefit all. The Museum fulfills this mission through our public programs (including exhibitions, gallery programs, lectures, special events, and presentations), our publications, and our quarterly journal, The American Fly Fisher.

For more information about the Museum and the Deborah Pratt Dawson Conservation Symposium please visit our website www.amff.com.

Conservation Captain of the Month: Capt. Steve Roff

RoffThe Conservation Captain for February 2015 is Georgetown, SC guide Capt. Steve Roff. Steve first introduced BTT to a potential juvenile tarpon habitat research site at a Wildlife Management Area near Georgetown, SC. He is also heavily involved with the Lowcountry Tarpon Tournament, which has made numerous donations to BTT. Most recently he’s been organizing juvenile tarpon sampling efforts (scales and fin clips) near South Island.

For more information on Capt. Steve Roff, check out his website: www.barrierislandguide.com

Where do you guide and how long have you been guiding for?

It’s hard to believe I am into my 16th year of guiding anglers! I live and operate out of Georgetown, SC.

How did you become a fishing guide?

Great question. My background is Marine Science and I worked as a Marine Biologist right out of college. I was fortunate and mentored by the first guide in our area, Gene Dickson. He was valuable in developing my skills with clients and on the business end of things. Guiding may also be in my blood, as my grandfather and father loved putting anglers on the fish.

How many days per year do you guide?

I spend roughly 220 days guiding fishing clients, 20 days waterfowl guiding and 20 days taking families out to explore and learn about our unique and preserved marine barrier islands and estuaries. We are blessed with over 60 miles of preserved coastal habitat in my area of South Carolina.

What species do most of your clients want to fish for. Why?

Tarpon – My customers and I share a love for those big beautiful, powerful acrobatic fish. Why? Because nothing feels better than taking out a newbie, introducing them to the sport, seeing their reaction to the bite. If I can combo this experience with a female or a teen catching and releasing a tarpon, it’s all the more gratifying.

Tell us about the Tarpon fishery in South Carolina.

Our fishery knowledge base in South Carolina has made great leaps in the past five years. The fishery used to be sporadic and not many anglers targeted tarpon. Most of the early catches were secondary while fishing for sharks and king mackerel. Now we’ve developed techniques to catch tarpon from the flats, rivers and beachfront habitats using artificials and live bait. The conservation ethic for our tarpon fishery really began with Andrew McClain and the first Low Country Tarpon Tournament. During that tournament we put the first satellite tag in a tarpon in SC. From that point I developed a relationship with Aaron Adams of the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust and Dr. Jerry Ault of the Univ. of Miami. That relationship has grown into a partnership of increased tarpon migration knowledge, common sense regulations and to now working with our juvenile tarpon. The staff especially, JoEllen Wilson, Juvenile Tarpon Habitat Program Manager, has made several visits to coordinate our efforts in identifying juvenile tarpon habitat and conduct DNA sampling.

In your opinion, why is the juvenile tarpon population of SC so special and why are they worth studying?

Many were surprised to learn that the estuarine marshes of South Carolina are a productive juvenile tarpon nursery habitat. For me it’s a little scary that we know so little about this stage of a tarpons life. Many questions arise – Do we have local spawning? If so, how abundant is it? What is the survival rate? What is the juvenile temperature tolerance? And the list goes on. I can tell you from previous sampling that these small 6”-10” tarpon are here, and answering a few question about these fish may provide a piece to the overall understanding and management of Atlantic tarpon.

Are there any negative issues facing your fishery?

Thanks to Senator Chip Campson, Government Affairs Advocate Fred Allen, Representative Stephen Goldfinch, and concerned anglers like Dave Devoe and I, we now have regulations that protect tarpon in South Carolina. These common sense laws make tarpon fishing what it should be, a catch and release fishery. However, we still encounter jaw gaffing, improper release and handling of mature fish. Our SC Dept. of Natural Resources created educational materials designed to help anglers properly handle and release tarpon. My biggest concern now as our angler participation grows is boats chasing feeding fish and putting increased pressure on the big females.

Why do you support Bonefish and Tarpon Trust?

Bonefish and Tarpon Trust was there in the beginning of our fishery to help guide and educate me on issues and possible solutions. Not only in FL, but from the tarpons historic geographical range. BTT’s holistic approach of identifying tarpon habitat use, life cycle biology, reducing angler impacts and supporting proper regulations just makes sense.

In your opinion, what is the most important work that BTT does and why?

I’ve observed BTT bringing the fishing community and science together with the common goals of sustaining and increasing tarpon populations. From the director on down, all BTT staff and volunteers freely share hard lessons learned in regional tarpon fishery. As a non-profit they provide a service that no one else is doing and use their resources wisely. The bottom line is, BTT staff fish and as anglers with a scientific approach, this organization is the primary storage and dissemination organization relating to tarpon management, education and conservation. Just check out their website.

Why should a fisherman that doesn’t live near the coastal southern United States or the Caribbean care about BTT?

They too may want catch a bonefish, tarpon or permit and support the organization that protects their passion. The habitat protection that BTT works towards benefits all of us and our many outdoor activities.

You have the day off. What species are you going to fish for, where are you going to find them, and what are you going to use to catch them?

Love to put my wife and kids in the boat and explore a new area. Nothing better than seeing feeding tarpon or rolling fish where you didn’t expect it.

Tell us one of your favorite fishing stories.

I was fortunate to guide some clients to a second Low County Tarpon Tournament win. We fished in rough weather and angling conditions, and at the last hour of the last day we found a pile of 80 lbs. tarpon (backs and tails out of the water feeding) that took artificals and sealed the victory. Didn’t expect to find those fish and leader three fish in 45 minutes. Two of the three anglers caught their first tarpon that day and left the tournament pumped and ready to follow the tarpon!

 

The Good Old Days

Originally posted by Fishpond USA

 

By Stu Apte

In the last chapter of my latest book, MY LIFE in FISHING; Favorite Long Stories Told Short; I started off by saying…I’ve enjoyed my “good old days” down to the last turn of my reel handle. Don’t let yours get away! One advantage to being an old dude, (I’m 84 as I write this blog) I can reflect on “the good old days.”

Some years ago while doing one of my many seminars; I was talking about some of those good old days. During the Q&A session, one of the young anglers spoke up and said that he didn’t know how the fishing was back in the 1950s or 60s but as far as he was concerned, the fishing was great right then.

I really like the direction of his thinking, and it only took me a nano- second to answer him with, “you’re right! These are the good old days of tomorrow!”

Because I have been fishing in South Florida waters more than 65 years, I am often asked, “What major changes have I seen in the fishery?” Generally I replied by saying, back in the mid-1950s through 1964, when I was a laid-off Pan Am Pilot, making my living as a backcountry fishing guide in the Lower Florida Keys, I began keeping a daily fishing log. It covered where I found the tarpon, permit and bonefish, what the air and water temperatures were, the wind direction and velocity and the tides, in each of the areas that I fished. Today I can check those logs, match the conditions to the present time, and head out to the flats with high expectations for success.

Will the fishing be like those “good old days”? No, it will not! The tarpon fishing is not the same as it was 40 years ago. It is still damn good though, and I go after them every chance I get. Yes, the tarpon fishing has changed since I first started fishing the Florida Keys. I remember seeing many schools of tarpon with 80 to 150 fish in a school swimming down various shallow banks near the deep channels. They showed up like clockwork at the predicted time of the best tides. Now you might see schools of 8 to 15 tarpon coming down the same banks, during the same tides.

Today, I don’t believe our tarpon population has decreased that much. But the fishing has changed, because 40 years or so ago, these big schools would come into the shallow water each year to get into the areas that had lots of food and solitude. With the coming of the fast, far-ranging skiffs, having large outboard motors, these areas have become rare for the tarpon.

I believe they spend more time in the deeper offshore waters. I also believe that many of these larger schools of tarpon that venture inshore are run over many times by boats with large engines, breaking them up into smaller, more-aware schools. I really don’t believe tarpon need to come into the shallow water to survive but historically they did this for the easy living that it provided.

My “good old days” of tarpon fishing have come and gone, long ago. You might not realize it, but yours are here right now. Yes it’s different. But they are all yours, and I hope you don’t waste them with negative thinking. It is important that you believe this is a good reason to join Bonefish Tarpon Trust (BTT) and help save our fishery.

Abaco Spawning Bonefish Research Update

Bonefish Research Mothership

During the first week of December a group of scientists from Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, the Florida Institute of Technology, and University of Massachusetts Amherst undertook the third year of the Abaco bonefish spawning study. For the first time in this program, the crew was able to work from a vessel stationed on site for the week-long project. Oscar Pinder, a local fishermen and business owner, rented the team a 48 foot lobster boat, the Lady Breanna, to use as a research platform for the study.

Based on work in the previous two years, the science team was hoping to learn more about pre-spawning and spawning behaviours of bonefish. Although the team learned a lot, it wasn’t in the way they expected. The team was able to tag and track only two bonefish schools during the week (they expected many more bonefish to be present), so they weren’t able to conduct research on the many schools they were expecting. However, the fish they tracked in the two schools that appeared at the site confirmed findings from the previous year’s research, which included porpoising behaviour at dusk, offshore movements after dusk for spawning, and immediate departure from the site after spawning.

With some of the data from previous research confirmed, we have a better handle on exactly what behaviours to look for when searching for spawning sites in other areas. But we also learned that bonefish spawning migrations and spawning activities may be more variable than we thought. Perhaps the most interesting information, however, is what we didn’t expect to learn – that in this third year of study the bonefish appeared to arrive on a quarter moon rather than full or new moons (as we had observed previously on Abaco, Eleuthera, and Andros). Questions of interest include: Were the bonefish reacting to different environmental conditions than in previous years, how are they able to communicate that spawning would occur at a different moon phase than normal, will spawning this year be as successful as in previous years? At the end of our trip we also learned that local grouper had already spawned, which was a month earlier than what the local fishermen expected based on their experiences. Is there something bigger going on that is affecting more than just bonefish?

In any case, the areas on Abaco and Grand Bahama Island where we have been working have been proposed for habitat protections based on the work we have done so far. We will continue to work hard to get this figured out. We have to, for the future of the fishery.

For the Abaco spawning work, a big thanks to South Abaco Adventures for their essential support.

Place your bids on “Silver King Circle” by BTT’s 2015 Artist of the Year, Mike Stidham

2015_artistoftheyear_paintingCopley Fine Art Auctions’ Winter Sale 2015 will take place February 12 in Charleston, SC. To bid on Mike Stidham’s “Silver King Circle”, come to the sale or contact Copley at 617.536.0030 or by email (info@copleyart.com) to register for an absentee or telephone bid. Internet bidding is also available through Bidsquare and Invaluable, and more information can be found at www.copleyart.com. 50% of the proceeds from the sale of “Silver King Circle” will go directly to BTT.

For more information about artist Mike Stidham, click here.

2015 BTT Trip of a Lifetime to Belize River Lodge

In 2015, any new or renewing member will automatically be entered to win the trip of a lifetime to fish in Belize at the beautiful Belize River Lodge. Check out the video below and click here for more information on Belize River Lodge.

To make sure you are entered into this year’s Trip of a Lifetime drawing, click here to renew your membership or click here to become a new member.