by Aaron Adams
A friend of mine once said, “You’d better be OK being alone with your thoughts for long periods of time if you are going to fly fish for permit.” It’s painfully true. Many (if not most) days of fly fishing for permit end with no fish caught. If you’re lucky, you get some shots and looks. And you always have to be alert and maintain your focus. It’s almost a guarantee that the moment the angler on the bow starts chatting with others on the boat, a permit will suddenly appear and then spook, taking advantage of the distraction. Tracking permit movements is no different. It takes focus and commitment, and it can be a long road, with a great reward at the end.
Several years into Costa’s Project Permit, we are learning more about permit movements from tag-recapture, and now that we’ve added acoustic tracking to the quiver, our knowledge of permit movements should increase significantly in the next few years.
Permit caught and tagged on the BTT Hell’s Bay Whipray.
Costa’s Project Permit came about because of serious gaps in our knowledge of permit habitat use and movement. We are working to obtain the necessary information so we can improve the knowledge base and conservation efforts for these unique fish. We already worked with the FWC to improve regulations for Florida permit, which included creation of a Special Permit Zone (SPZ) from Biscayne Bay south through the Florida Keys.
Project Permit addresses some important questions about permit.
Do they act like bonefish and stay in relatively small home ranges, or regularly move longer distances?
Is the SPZ of the Florida Keys sufficient to protect the fishery, or do Keys permit migrate north into unprotected areas where harvest levels are high?
Do individual permit go to the same location each time they spawn, or use multiple locations?
Can data on permit movement patterns be used to help guide spatial management zones in the upcoming Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary revised management plan?
So far, anglers and guides have tagged 1,240 permit with dart tags. Most tagging has occurred in the Florida Keys, but there have also been a lot of permit tagged in southwest and southeast Florida. We’ve received 35 reported recaptures. Again, most recaptures are in the Florida Keys. We’re seeing some distinct potential patterns so far:
- The majority of permit are recaptured within a few miles of where they were tagged. In fact, some fish are recaptured on the same flat where they were tagged, days or years later.
- The shortest time between the date of tagging and recapture was two days.
- The longest time between tag and recapture was 897 days – but this fish was recaptured within a ½ mile from where it was tagged.
- Two permit have made long distance travels:
- A permit tagged in Biscayne Bay was recaptured and harvested 95 days later near Fort Worth, a distance of approximately 70 miles.
- A second fish tagged in Biscayne Bay was recaptured 263 days later off a wreck south of Key West, a distance of approximately 120 miles.
Don’t forget to send us your data on tagged or recaptured fish before releasing them! Take a picture of the tag or write down the tag number, size, date and location and send to us.
Unfortunately, we have a few recaptures for which the original tagging data has never been sent in. If you have tagging data, please send it to us! And remember, for a limited time, anyone who catches and reports a tagged permit is eligible to receive a pair of Costa Sunglasses of their choice.
If we use bonefish as our model, these preliminary data suggest that permit may have relatively small home ranges, but that they migrate to spawning locations. If this is the case, the next questions to address are: Do permit spawn at the same sites every time they spawn or do they move among sites? Is it possible bonefish are not a good model for permit movements? Are these longer distance movements by permit for spawning or just part of regular permit movement patterns? Do all permit move long distances or do some stick to a smaller home range?
Continued tagging will help us continue to address these questions. And the new acoustic tracking project in the Lower Florida Keys will provide some fantastic data over the next few years, as those tagged fish only need to swim in range of a network of acoustic receivers to be detected.
Thanks to our generous project sponsors (including lead sponsors Costa and the March Merkin), and thanks to everyone who has participated in tagging for making this project possible. Stay tuned, and keep tagging!