FIU Launches Study of Bonefish in Florida Keys

via the Miami Herald

fiulogoProminent South Florida fisheries scientists are taking the complaints of guides and anglers very seriously. At the fifth Bonefish Tarpon Symposium held Nov. 7-8 in Dania Beach, Jennifer Rehage, associate professor at the Southeast Environmental Research Center at Florida International University, announced the launch of a comprehensive, three-year study to examine in fine detail what’s going on with the Keys bonefish population, particularly in Florida Bay. The study is being funded by Bonefish & Tarpon Trust.

“Catches reported by guides have decreased by half since 1980,” Rehage said.

“We’re going to link what we know about bonefish with things that have happened in the bay.”

Rehage said that when the study is completed, “we’ll know what happened and how it happened to bonefish in the bay.”

FWC Agrees to Cuda Workshops

On Thursday, November 20th, representatives from the Lower Keys Guides Association, Keys Keeper, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, and the Snook and Gamefish Foundation attended the FWC Commissioner’s meeting in Key Largo, FL to express their concern for the declining number of Great Barracuda in southern Florida. Although the state of Florida has a recreational bag limit of 100 pounds of barracuda or 2 fish per-day per-person, commercial fishing for barracuda is largely unregulated. That means that any fisherman with a basic commercial license can harvest an unlimited quantity of barracuda it they so choose.

Although the group’s request for a barracuda stock assessment and extended research and protection was denied, the Commissioners did agree that the issue is worthy of workshops in the future.

No dates have been given for those workshops.

Click here to read the full article on

Bonefish and Tarpon Trust hosts their 5th International Symposium

On November 7th and 8th, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust hosted their 5th International Symposium at the IGFA Hall of Fame and Museum in Dania Beach, Florida. Hundreds of conservation minded attendees turned out for the educational and event packed weekend, all with a focus on raising awareness about the conservation of bonefish, tarpon, and permit._MG_8156 - Version 2

Scientists from the United States, Canada, Brazil, Belize, the Bahamas, and Cuba were on hand to present their latest findings on a variety of topics concerning the three slam species. A number of fly and spin fishing clinics were held for the attendees to enjoy and there were also panel discussions with some of today’s most knowledgeable fishing guides and angling legends from around the world, sharing their insight and stories about bonefish, tarpon, and permit.

Friday evening saw the inaugural BTT Art and Film Festival, where some of the biggest names in saltwater art and photography displayed their work and helped raise funds for BTT. The festival also featured screenings of many excellent short films, all competing for a chance to win prizes from Orvis and Costa and the title of Viewer’s Choice. In the end, “Knockin’ On The Door” by WorldAngling took home the win. The winner of BTT’s Best Conservation Message went to Marc Montocchio for his trailer of the film “Origins Of The Sky.”

_MG_8202 - Version 2The highlight of the film screening was the world premier of “90 Miles“, in which filmmaker Will Benson of WorldAngling highlighted his recent trip to Cuba with BTT scientists and showed the world that although the US has had differences with its neighbor to the south, we also share many commonalities including a love for fishing and a passion for the conservation of our environment.

Capping off the two-day event was a Saturday evening silent auction followed by the “Passing The Torch” Banquet. The banquet celebrated some up and coming members of the saltwater fishing community in a short “Passing The Torch” film. The film highlighted Paul Puckett, Jorge Martinez, Captain C.A. Richardson, Captain Will Benson, Meredith McCord and Oliver White for their support of BTT and their efforts to promote conservation of bonefish, tarpon, and permit.

_91Q8508 - Version 2During the banquet, BTT awarded three Conservation Stewardship awards to deserving members of the fishing community. The Flats Stewardship Award went to former FWC commissioner Ken Wright for his tireless efforts in securing the catch and release status of bonefish and tarpon in Florida, as well as the banning of the “Boca Grande Jig”. The Lefty Kreh Sportsman of the Year Award was presented to Costa’s VP of Marketing, Al Perkinson, for his immense support of BTT through Project Permit, and the Curt Gowdy Media Memorial Award went to legendary author and Buccaneers and Bones star Tom McGuane.

_91Q8555 - Version 2The American Fisheries Society also presented Bonefish and Tarpon Trust with the prestigious Conservation Achievement Award for the Fisheries Management Section.  This annual award recognizes an organization’s outstanding contributions to fishery conservation or fishery science. Upon receiving the award, BTT’s Director of Operations Dr. Aaron Adams noted, “BTT is extremely flattered and proud to receive this award from the American Fisheries Society. This award confirms the validity of our approach to fisheries conservation, and provides encouragement moving forward.”


The two day event saw roughly 350 registered attendees come through the doors and went on to gross nearly $117,000 for Bonefish and Tarpon Trust. Symposium Chairman Chris Peterson of Hell’s Bay Boatworks commented, “The scientific presentations were astronomically enlightening, the instruction sessions legendary, and the fellowship among like minded anglers…priceless.” BTT President Matt Connolly added, “Like me, I suspect that nearly all 350 Symposium attendees left inspired by the “Legends”, encouraged by the exciting scientific breakthroughs, and energized knowing their investment in BTT has delivered such dynamic returns in but three years! The many inspiring discoveries shared with us at the Symposium made it apparent that we must transform this emerging scientific knowledge into enlightened management of flats ecosystems throughout the Caribbean. It is a challenge BTT is now, more than ever, well prepared to meet!”

Click here to view a photo gallery of the symposium events.

Click here to watch the BTT “Passing The Torch” video.

Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, KeysKeeper, and the Lower Keys Guides Association Urge the FWC to Make Barracuda a Top Priority

Recently there has been a slow but steady realization by many South Florida fisherman that the Keys barracuda population is in decline. As a result, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, KeysKeeper, and the Lower Keys Guides Association are teaming up to urge the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to make barracuda a top priority on their list.

A survey of fishermen, fishing guides, and scientists in the Florida Keys and South Florida indicates that the decline in the barracuda population may be due to the unregulated commercial fishery and unregulated recreational harvest for barracuda. Much like tarpon, bonefish, and permit, there is little known about the barracuda. But, the limited data on barracuda that the FWC does have actually supports this observation. Their data shows that commercial landings of barracuda actually increased by 65% in 2012.

In addition to the importance of barracuda to the recreational flats fishery of the Florida Keys, they are also critical to the entire flats ecosystem. Next to sharks, barracuda are likely the top predator on the flats, so they should receive the same protection that FWC recently provided to many shark species.

Finally, since barracuda are known carriers of ciguatoxins and the commercially harvested barracuda become part of the South Florida seafood market (although frequently marketed as another species), there is considerable and growing concern about the health risks posed to consumers.

Before there is an irreversible population decline of barracuda, we believe management action is needed. BTT, KeysKeeper, and LKGA need your help to convince the FWC to follow the same process they used to address the bonefish, tarpon, and permit fisheries by obtaining the necessary data to better regulate the barracuda fishery, and to take the responsible and precautionary approach to implementing regulations that will protect the barracuda population while the necessary information is being obtained. Please visit  to send the commission a note supporting the call for improved barracuda regulations and for the FWC to conduct a barracuda stock assessment.

Conservation Captain Of The Month: Capt. Will Benson

WillBensonThis month’s Conservation Captain is Lower Keys guide Capt. Will Benson. Many of you know Will as the creator of award winning tarpon and permit films through his company WorldAngling. But, Will is also a extremely passionate conservationist with a willingness to support BTT and our causes at a moments notice. Keep reading below to learn more about Capt. Will and be sure to come out to the this year’s BTT Art & Film Festival to catch the world premier of WorldAngling’s newest film, “90 Miles“.

Click here to visit the WorldAngling website.

Where do you guide?

I guide in the Lower Florida Keys from Marathon to the Marquesas.

How did you become a fishing guide?

I went to school and got a degree in Philosophy and since there were no philosophy jobs available that I could find, I decided the next best thing was to be a fly fishing guide.

How many days per year do you guide?

About 250 days.

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

Most of my anglers are open to fish for whatever the day has to offer, whether that’s tarpon, permit, barracuda, sharks or even snapper.  The idea is to embrace what’s out there and have fun with it.

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

I don’t have a tremendous historical perspective so it’s hard to comment on numbers of fish, although overall I’ve seen a general downtrend in the numbers of tarpon, bonefish and permit.  What I do know is there are a lot more folks out on the water and there has been a huge increase in the numbers of fly fishermen.  When I was a kid it was mostly spin anglers and now it’s the opposite.  I attribute that to the inherent challenge of fly fishing and the attraction to a younger demographic.

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?

This is a really difficult question and I don’t believe it is any one thing but rather a combination of several that all interconnect.  I believe habitat loss (specifically mangrove shoreline in south Florida), water quality and quantity coming out of the Everglades, and the decline of the coral reef habitat are the 3 major ones.  Fixing the problem is one of the major environmental challenges in the world.  It’s as big as global climate change and as small as local building codes.  The first step to fixing these issues is to consider the value of intact healthy ecosystems and not just pay it lip service but actually do something about it, consider it politically, be conscious everyday of how we as humans depend on the health of our planet.

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

It’s the most elaborate, complicated puzzle imaginable.  It’s humbling!

Why do you support Bonefish and Tarpon Trust?

Because they care.  Because the mission is rooted in science and because, as a guide in South Florida, they are the organization that represents my interest and advocate on my behalf and they do so from the basis of real science.

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

I think it’s a combination of putting the pieces of the puzzle together to understand what the problems are and their tireless representation in governmental affairs.

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?

I obviously love the big three tarpon, bonefish, and permit, so that’s always part of my focus.  But if I did get a day off I would say that I’d go looking for those fish, but in spots I’ve never fished. I love the unexpected. I love unlocking the mystery and deepening my understanding. I will tell you though a perfect day for me also involves stopping to catch a large snapper for dinner or jumping in the water to dive for some lobster to throw on the grill.

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

I have too many to pick just one.  What I will say is that many of them involve catching people their first permit on fly.  There is nothing better then watching the expression on an anglers face when they hold their first permit on fly.  It’s a real accomplishment and special moment in people’s lives.  I love being a part of that and it’s really the reason I think I’ll be a guide forever.

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


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.