BTT / Deep Water Cay Tag and Recapture Rewards Program Comes To An End

DeepWaterCay_logoRecently BTT and our conservation partner Deep Water Cay Lodge (DWC) launched an experimental bonefish tag and recapture rewards program to help draw attention to the Bahamas bonefish tagging program. The program was designed to increase membership by providing anglers and guides at DWC with the opportunity to participate in the gathering of critical scientific data that will in turn be used to keep the nearly $150 million dollar per year Bahamas flats fishery healthy for years to come. In addition to preservation of the Bahamas fishery, the data collected is used to help formulate conservation guidelines in all areas where bonefish are present.

For this program, over one thousand bonefish were tagged in the waters surrounding DWC, with one tag being the “magic tag”. If an angler were to catch the bonefish with the magic tag, they would win the reward of $10,000 and the angler’s guide would win $2,000. This program was made possible by a donor who has an interest in increasing BTT membership and made the donation to cover the costs of this program.

In order to be eligible to win the rewards program, an angler must have been a BTT member, they needed to be staying at Deep Water Cay, and they were to be fishing with a Deep Water Cay guide when the fish was caught. Earlier this year, DWC guest Bailey Sory was the lucky angler that caught the bonefish with the magic tag with guide Michael Taylor. “The work Dr. Aaron Adams, BTT, and DWC are doing with their Rewards Tagging program provides vital data to ensure important habitat areas are protected. Importantly, the Rewards program engages and educates the fisherman shedding light on the need to conduct this valuable research,” said Mr. Sory. He added, “East End Grand Bahama is a diverse fishery and needs to be protected. Thankfully the science and research of BTT, combined with the resources and steadfast commitment of DWC, goes a long way to ensure the ecosystem is in good hands.”

Thanks to all who participated in the program. And although the Rewards program is now over, please report any tagged bonefish that you catch. The data are vital to the future of the fishery.

 

BTT Announces Nautilus Reels As Newest Corporate Partner

Bonefish and Tarpon Trust is proud to announce Nautilus Reels as their newest Corporate Sponsor at the Silver Partner level. As part of the sponsorship, Nautilus will donate five percent of all proceeds from the sales of their NV-Monster reel to BTT. Nautilus will also be offering a complimentary introductory membership to Bonefish and Tarpon Trust with every purchase of these reels. “We are proud to be partnering with Bonefish and Tarpon Trust,” said Nautilus owner Kristen Mustad. “We believe in the work they are doing to protect flats habitats, and feel a sense of responsibility to give back to this fishery and help preserve it for the next generation of anglers.”

Photo credit: Honson Lau

Photo credit: Honson Lau

In addition to their Silver Sponsorship, Nautilus is a sponsor of this year’s Bonefish and Tarpon Symposium in Dania Beach, and is donating a custom permit reel with an engraving by Miami artist Jorge Martinez to be auctioned off at the banquet on November 8th, with all proceeds going to support BTT’s efforts.

“We’re thrilled that a great company like Nautilus sees the importance of BTT’s work for the flats fishery, and that they have become such strong supporters,” said BTT Director of Operations, Dr. Aaron Adams. “It is collaborations like these that give the flats fishery a brighter future.”

About Nautilus Reels:

Nautilus Reels produces an award winning line of reels from their headquarters in Miami, Florida. Nautilus is on the forefront of reel innovation and maintains a tradition of experience and excellence while continuously redefining performance. For more information about Nautilus Reels, please visit their website and follow them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Conservation Captain Of The Month: Capt. Joe Gonzalez

JoeGonzalezThis month’s Conservation Captain is veteran guide Capt. Joe Gonzalez of Funnybone Charters. Joe has been fishing out of the Biscayne Bay area for nearly 27 years. He is one of BTT’s most proactive fish taggers and he has been featured in numerous television shows, magazine articles, and blogs. Read below to learn more about Capt. Joe.

Click here to visit Capt. Joe Gonzalez’s website.

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

I primarily guide out of Biscayne Bay, Miami, FL. I have been guiding since 1987, approximately 27 years. In my earlier guiding career, I guided some in the Florida Keys and the Everglades National Park.

How did you become a fishing guide?

I became a fishing guide after becoming passionate with flats fishing in my late teenage years after spending much time in the Keys and the Bahamas.

How many days per year do you guide?

I am currently fishing over 250 days a year and I must say, it has not always been that way.

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

Most of my clients want to fish for bonefish, permit and tarpon, not always in that order.

Tell us about how the fishery used to be, compared to today.

The fisheries are dependent on times of the year. For example, tarpon fishing is best from March through mid-July. Permit fishing I would have to say is best April through November and bonefishing, here in Biscayne Bay, is an all-year fishery. However, I especially like the transitional seasonal months such as March and April (spring) and November-December (Florida fall) for bonefish. I used to think that there were yearly cyclical changes in the fisheries however, I have certainly seen a decline especially in bonefish, but not so much in tarpon and permit. It was not uncommon in years past, perhaps 15 years ago or so, to catch 5 to 8 bonefish per day, making that a good day in comparison to 2 or 3 for a good day today. I can remember fishing in the winter time when fish congregate, and seeing several hundred bonefish, if not more. Now, such a site is not as common.

In your opinion, what is the most important conservation issue facing the Keys fishery right now and what can be done to help fix it?

In my opinion, the most important conservation issue is awareness. All who contemplate the sport of fishing must be educated to respect and understand all factors necessary for the fisheries to thrive and survive.

Despite some of the negative things happening to our fishery, why do you love it so much?

One of the reasons why I love the sport so much is because of the degree of difficulty in catching bonefish, permit and tarpon. Unlike exotic locations such as the Bahamas, Mexico, the Christmas Islands just to name a few, we have, in South Florida, a quality fishery, not a quantity fishery. Our fish are larger, for the most part, and the skill level necessary to prevail makes for better anglers and better guides.

Why do you support Bonefish and Tarpon Trust?

I support BTT because the organization helps us understand the migratory, spawning and overall behavioral aspects of these species, provides insight to enhance and protect the fisheries while understanding the economic impact these species have throughout Florida, the Caribbean and Mexico, just to name a few. BTT’s goal is to ensure that the fisheries become and stay healthy to regain the numbers that once were prevalent.

Why should a fisherman that doesn’t live in Florida or the Caribbean care about BTT?

A non-resident fisherman would appreciate and support an organization such as BTT that strives to preserve and maintain a vibrant sustainable fishery for sportsmen of all backgrounds to enjoy for generations to come.

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?

On my day off, I will still get up at 4:30 a.m., have my Cuban coffee, load my fly rods and still be antsy to wait for bonefish to tail in slick, calm waters at sun up. As the morning breeze picks up and the sun rises to 9, 9:30a.m., while the tide rolls in, you might then find me sight-casting permit. Later that afternoon, on the flood tide, you will probably find me up tight on a bank waiting for ocean-side tarpon. Oh, gotta go…here comes a string!

Tell us one (or two) of your favorite fishing stories.

In 1992, just before Hurricane Andrew, I was invited up to Homosassa to help a friend chase a world record tarpon on 12lb test. I was on the poling platform most of the morning and I watched as my friend hooked a half dozen nice fish that he immediately and deliberately broke off exclaiming that the fish were too small. As a young captain, I was only used to tarpon in the 30 lb – 100 lb range and having an angler on the front of boat consistently break off so many nice fish was just heartbreaking. Later in the day it was my turn to fish and it wasn’t long until we found a nice group of fish. I made my cast and set the hook into a fish that easily tipped the scales at over 150lbs. It took off like a rocket, peeling off nearly 175 yards of line before making its first fantastic jump. Being such a green fisherman, it took me nearly 2 hours to land the fish. It wasn’t a world record, but I had never experienced something quite as amazing as that tarpon. It is truly a fish I will never forget.

BTT Partners with KeysKeeper and Florida Keys Guide Associations to Call For Catch and Release Zones As Part of Sanctuary Plan

By AARON ADAMS, STEVE TRIPPE, JOHN O’HEARN and DUANE BAKER

The catch and release of a Florida Keys Permit

The catch and release of a Florida Keys Permit

The ongoing management revision process of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is a cause of great concern to many in the Florida Keys. Most admit that with the growing human population in the Keys and increasing use of the Keys resources, there is need for a revised approach to how these resources and user groups are managed. There is much debate, however, on what a new management approach should look like.

The challenge is to design a management plan that accommodates the needs of user groups while addressing threats to the natural resources. Any plan needs also to reflect the historical uses and protect the original intent of the creation of the sanctuary. This requires a process of identifying threats and applying management measures that address the threats while causing the least harm to responsible and sustainable uses of the natural resources within the sanctuary.

In large part, this is the process that has been employed in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Zoning and Management Review.

However, in the face of the complexity of the issues being addressed, there seems to be a trend to propose a “one size fits all” approach.

For example, a “one size fits all” plan would close an area to all human access to protect seagrass, whereas a well-designed, more detailed and intimate plan would allow appropriate access such as by boats that use a push pole or trolling motor or watercraft that are propelled with paddles – activities that don’t cause damage to seagrass.

The Florida Keys have the distinction of being the birth place of flats fishing, a fishery that targets bonefish, tarpon, permit and other species on the flats. It is a fishery that is an historic and iconic part of our local culture and economy. It began in the early 1900s, has thrived since the mid-1900s and continues to make the Keys a destination for recreational anglers from around the world.

Moreover, the flats fishery has long been a catch and release fishery, and ongoing angler education has helped to improve catch and release fish handling practices.

Recently the practice of catch and release was codified by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for two of the fishery’s primary targets — bonefish and tarpon. Additionally, in 2012, FWC revised permit regulations with an eye toward more sustainable long-term management.

The catch and release flats fishery is a strong candidate to be used as a conservation tool in the management plan revision being conducted by the sanctuary. First, because the research has shown that survival after catch and release of these species is high, there is minimal impact to the targeted fish populations. This means that the fisheries are sustainable, which meets a primary goal of the Sanctuary.

This is not the case for many species, so catch and release would not be an appropriate conservation tool for species with high post-release mortality.

Second, because the fishery employs sight-fishing as the primary fishing technique, anglers and guides use push poles or trolling motors while fishing, thus ensuring a low environmental impact on habitats. Third, the Florida Keys flats fishery has a very high economic impact, exceeding $465 million annually. In short, the catch and release flats fishery within the sanctuary has perhaps the highest economic impact concurrent with the lowest environmental impact.

The sanctuary should consider catch-and-release zones to address numerous management concerns while simultaneously allowing an economically important and historical sanctuary activity to continue.

For example, a catch and release zone would serve the purpose of protecting fish populations of concern due to harvest, while allowing catch and release fishing for other species. In addition, since flats fishing occurs primarily by pole, troll and paddle, catch and release zones could be used for habitat protections (e.g., seagrass protection).

It is critical that the sanctuary and their advisers carefully examine the numerous threats to the resources under their care and design plans that satisfy the requirements to protect these resources while simultaneously allowing responsible, historical and sustainable resource use that is based on valid scientific and economic information.

Sanctuary Management, both locally and in Washington, can enhance its present and future efforts to preserve and manage these kinds of resources by recognizing catch and release flats fishing as an example of the type of user group that is preferred for this resource and others of its ilk.

Using the combination of historical precedence and scientific proof of sustainability, applying catch-and-release-only designations to areas that require additional protection can improve the quality of the environment and demonstrate a commitment to preserve the experience of visiting these beautiful and wild places.

Aaron Adams is a director of operations for the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust. Steve Trippe is director of KeysKeeper. Capt. John O’Hearn is president of the Lower Keys Guides Association. Capt. Duane Baker is commodore for the Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association.

Click here to view the original article.

September 2014 Marks One-Year Anniversary of Bonefish and Tarpon as Catch and Release Species in Florida

Florida Keys Bonefish Ready for Release

Florida Keys Bonefish Ready for Release

September 2014 marks the one-year anniversary that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) moved to make tarpon and bonefish exclusively catch and release species. The health of these fish and their habitats is critically important to sustaining the $465 million dollar per year Florida Keys flats fishery that we all love. The FWC, led by former Commission Chairman Ken Wright, acknowledged this and helped to score this huge win for Florida’s fisheries.

As a refresher, here is a list of the changes that went into effect on Sept. 1, 2013 in state and federal waters off Florida:

  • All harvest of tarpon will be eliminated, with the exception of the harvest or possession of a single tarpon when in pursuit of an International Game Fish Association record and in conjunction with a tarpon tag.
  • Tarpon tags will be limited to one per person, per year except for properly licensed charter boat captains and fishing guides.
  • Transport or shipment of tarpon becomes limited to one fish per person.
  • There will be a one-fish-per-vessel limit for tarpon.
  • Gear used for tarpon will be limited to hook-and-line only.
  • Multiple hooks in conjunction with live or dead natural bait cannot be used to target or harvest tarpon, or to target bonefish.
  • People will be allowed to temporarily possess a tarpon for photography, measurement of length and girth and scientific sampling, with the stipulation that tarpon more than 40 inches must remain in the water.
  • Tarpon regulations will extend into federal waters.
  • The bonefish tournament exemption permit is eliminated. This exemption allowed tournament anglers with the proper permit to temporarily possess bonefish for transport to a tournament scale.

In addition to following these regulations, it is paramount that all anglers practice safe fish handling techniques to ensuring the post-release survival of your catch. Click here for more information on catch and release best practices.

BTT Takes First Steps At New Juvenile Tarpon Habitat Restoration Site

DrivingInThis week, scientists at Bonefish and Tarpon Trust broke ground at their newest Juvenile Tarpon Habitat Restoration site by setting up antenna arrays that will be used to track juvenile tarpon movements within a series of canals. This project, being done in conjunction with the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Charlotte Harbor Buffer Preserve, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, will turn what are now old canals from a long-abandoned development into juvenile tarpon habitats. The crew made their way into the new site early Tuesday morning and were able to assemble 4 antenna arrays at a number of strategic locations. “The first step is to see how the fish currently use the canal system,” said JoEllen Wilson, BTT’s Juvenile Tarpon Habitat Program Manager. “Then once the restoration is complete, we will continue to sample to see if the tarpon prefer one type of habitat over another.”

lookingovermapBTT scientists will return later this year to begin the sampling. Sampling includes capturing juvenile tarpon with cast nets and seine nets, taking measurements, and then tagging the individual fish with PIT tags. When a tagged fish passes through one of the antenna arrays the antenna will log the date, time, and the unique tag number.

Juvenile tarpon depend upon shallow, backwater habitats for at least the first 2 to 3 years of their lives. Common characteristics include:

  • Mangrove or other fringing vegetation that provides structure and protection from bird predators;
  • A mixture of depths – primarily shallow with some deeper pools for fish to congregate when water levels decrease;
  • Tidal exchange through narrow, shallow passages that keeps predatory fish away;
  • Freshwater inflow;
  • Calm backwaters.

upcanalAs coastal human populations continue to increase, coastal ecosystems and the fisheries they support are becoming increasingly stressed due to factors such as habitat loss and degradation.  Therefore, there is an urgent need to protect and restore these critically important habitats.

BTT thanks its collaborators the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Charlotte Harbor Buffer Preserve (especially Mr. Jay Garner), and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

For more info on the Juvenile Tarpon Habitat Initiative, or to help out this initiative by becoming a member, please visit www.btt.org

Conservation Captain Of The Month: Capt. Bob Branham

201408_BobBranhamThis month’s Conservation Captain is veteran guide Capt. Bob Branham. Bob fishes the Key Biscayne and South Biscayne Bay areas and he has 35 years of guiding experience under his belt. Whether he is volunteering his time and boat for a research mission or sitting on the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust board, Bob has been an invaluable asset to the BTT team.

Click here to visit Capt. Bob Branham’s website

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

I fish mostly out of Key Biscayne in South Biscayne Bay but I occasionally fish the Keys and Flamingo. I have been guiding for 35 years.

How did you become a fishing guide?

I worked for Publix back in the day and would fish every chance I got. A good friend of mine did a story on Bill Curtis for the Miami Herald and introduced me to Bill. Bill would occasionally send me a charter that I would take on my day off. Soon I was getting too many trips and had to call in sick now and again. When I got busy enough to struggle by on just guiding I retired from Publix. I took my retirement and bought a new Hewes Bonefisher.

How many days per year do you guide?

Before I entered my declining years I would sometimes fish 80 to 90 days in a row during the season and would log 270- 280 days a year. Back then I prayed for bad weather so I could get a day off. These days I take a day or two off after working 6 or 8 days in a row.

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

My clients know that I am a species snob and only fish for bonefish, tarpon, and permit. I used to travel to Flamingo to fish for redfish and snook but don’t do it anymore. Redfish are OK but they don’t hold a candle to bonefish.

Tell us about how the fishery used to be, compared to today.

The fishery has changed a great deal in the last 35 years – not for the better. There are still lots of fish but fewer spots that hold them. There are many more guides and a huge amount of private boaters fishing for a declining number of fish. When I started hardly anybody fished on their own for bonefish. I blame many of our current fisherman population problems on the Internet.

In your opinion, what is the most important conservation issue facing the Keys fishery right now and what can be done to help fix it?

Water quality is probably the biggest problem in the Keys. Hopefully the new sewer system will help that down the road. Re-plumbing the Everglades should also be a priority. There are many laws on the books to protect the fishery but enforcement is largely nonexistent.

Despite some of the negative things happening to our fishery, why do you love it so much?

All you have to do is witness one sunrise on the flats and you will understand why I love this. The fish are just a huge bonus.

Why do you support Bonefish and Tarpon Trust?

BTT is currently our last best hope for turning around our declining fish numbers. They have grown into a well funded, science based, politically potent organization of truly motivated folks who love what I love and want to get it back.

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

I think BTT’s strength lies in its research-based format. It is nice to know that the fishery is being looked after by people motivated by a love of the sport.

Why should a fisherman that doesn’t live in Florida or the Caribbean care about BTT?

Anybody that fishes anywhere in the world has heard of bonefish and wants to catch one someday. If he or she wants to realize that goal they need to pitch in and help return these fish to their historical range and population.

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?

When I have a day off I am heading to Biscayne Bay with a buddy or two and my fly rod and will look for bonefish.

Tell us one (or two) of your favorite fishing stories.

Years ago in March we had a strong cold front pass through. It was a sunny and windless day but the air temp was low 30′s- I had ice on my windshield when I got in my car. My customer was from Toronto and when he showed up I told him it was a no-go – water temp was 54 deg. and there was no way we would see a bonefish. He looked at me and said that he had to get out of the house as his kids were out of control and his wife had some honey-do’s lined up if he stayed home. He mentioned that it looked like a beautiful day to him – he was in shorts. I put on my down parka and off we went. We were headed south in hopes of maybe catching a cuda or something and when I got to Stiltsville, I couldn’t believe it. Bonefish mud was all over this flat. It seemed like every bonefish in the Bay was there, feeding hard. We stayed on that flat all day and hooked 30 fish on fly – none was less than 7 lbs. It did warm up a bit. Air temps hit 65 deg. and water temps came up to the low 60′s.- still way too low for bonefish or so I used to think.

Traveling Angler Trip Report: Belcampo Lodge, June 2014

AAdams-3496It’s odd to wake with a smile to what sounds like someone being killed outside of my bedroom window, but in this case it was a good thing. I was waking up in the rainforest of southern Belize, awakened by two troops of Howler monkeys trying to yell one another down at the boundary between their territories. Although another hour of sleep would have been nice, this meant that in just a couple of hours I would be scanning the water for permit.

I awoke to the sounds of the Howler monkeys numerous times over the next week, as did my fellow traveling anglers, all of us lodging at Belcampo Belize, our host for this Traveling Angler trip. Our goal was to catch and tag AAdams-3547as many permit as we could with “spaghetti tags” as part of a project to track the movements of permit. One of the main questions we hope to answer with the tagging program is – are the existing protected areas (Paynes Creek and Port Honduras Marine Reserves) large enough to protect the permit population?

Another goal, an ambitious one at that, was to catch a permit larger than 18 pounds so we could fit it with a mini-satellite tag. (In 2013, we tested whether a permit of this size could physically handle the tag by fitting a tag on a permit that was kept in a large tank, AAdams-3969and it handled the tag without a problem.) The tag will record light level, time of day, water temperature, and salinity, so will provide some clues about the permit’s daily movements onto and off of the flats, and in and out of the estuaries.

The daily routine was to board the shuttle in the morning for the ride down the hill to Garbutt’s Marine in Punta Gorda, where we boarded the pangas for the day of fishing. The Port Honduras and Paynes Creek areas are a short ride from Garbutt’s, and the Pangas made for a AAdams-1001comfortable ride even when seas were rough.

Eight permit were caught during the week, each one of them tagged with a spaghetti tag. One captured permit was estimated at 25 pounds, but unfortunately the chase boat with the satellite tag was too far away. This healthy permit was released with a spaghetti tag.

The Traveling Anglers on the trip were a fantastic group, Belcampo Belize did a fantastic job hosting the trip, and the guides were top notch. We’re looking forward to another trip next year.