BTT Provides Bonefish Conservation Update in Grand Bahama

DSC_0836Last March, Justin Lewis, BTT’s Bahamas Initiative Coordinator, gave a presentation about BTT’s bonefish conservation efforts in the Bahamas at the Rand Nature Center, the Grand Bahama Island headquarters of the Bahamas National Trust (BNT). BTT has been collaborating with BNT, The Fisheries Conservation Foundation, and the Cape Eleuthera Institute on bonefish conservation since 2009. Justin’s presentation was part of the Rand Nature Center’s monthly public lecture series that shares information about the Bahamian natural environment and the threats it faces. Thanks to great advertising by the BNT, there were over 40 people in attendance, including school teachers, bonefish guides, the general public, representatives from other conservation organizations, and a representative from the sustainable tourism section of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.

Justin kept the crowd engaged with descriptions of bonefish biology, the economic and cultural importance of the bonefish fishery, and the findings of the ongoing effort to identify the bonefish habitats most in need of conservation and protection. The highlights of the first portion of the presentation included:

  • The annual economic impact of the recreational bonefish fishery exceeds $141 million
  • Bonefish spawning behavior, and the fact that they spawn offshore
  • The unusual leptocephalus bonefish larvae that hatches from the fertilized egg and floats in the open ocean for almost 2 months.

DSC_0829Justin also brought the audience up to speed on the bonefish tagging project, which began in 2009, and is designed to identify the habitats and locations most in need of conservation and protection to ensure the health of the fishery. Audience members were interested to learn that most tagged bonefish were recaptured very close to where they were tagged, which suggests that bonefish have a small home range. But they were amazed to learn that these same fish undergo long migrations to spawning locations. Numerous fish tagged in the Abaco Marls, for example, were recaptured at a spawning location 70 miles away. And one fish may have migrated as far as 176 miles – from a home range location on Grand Bahama to a spawning location on Abaco.

The key message of Justin’s presentation was that the economically and culturally important recreational bonefish fishery in the Bahamas is susceptible to numerous threats and requires diligent conservation to ensure a healthy fishery. Their small home ranges means that bonefish are susceptible to illegal netting and habitat degradation from coastal development. They may be especially susceptible to illegal netting during their long distance spawning migrations, when they travel along shorelines in large schools. And since bonefish return to the same spawning site every year, any damage to the site from development, such as channel dredging or marina construction, could impact the entire local population.

IMG_3653BTT, FCF, and CEI are using this research to assist BNT in their efforts to create new National Parks on Grand Bahama and Abaco that will help protect important bonefish habitats. The BNT has an online petition where you can add your name to the list of people who support the creation of these important National Parks. Please go to http://bahamasparks.org/ to sign the petition.

Based on the number of questions Justin was asked by the audience, the energy is high to continue this conservation work to assist with conservation of bonefish and their habitats in the Bahamas.

Permit Conservation in Belize

A satellite tagged permit swims away.

A satellite tagged permit swims away.

Thanks to the diligent efforts of a group of 10 anglers from the Washington, DC area, we just sent a 21 pound permit swimming away carrying a small satellite tag. This was the first permit satellite tagged in Belize, and the first permit satellite tagged by a recreational angler.

The satellite tagging effort was part of an ongoing collaboration in southern Belize between BTT, Belcampo Lodge, the Southern Belize Sport Fishing Association, Garbutt’s Lodge, and Costa Sunglasses, and was all in support of Project Belize and Costa’s Project Permit. The goals of the collaboration are to determine what level of fishing effort the fishery can support, to figure out whether the protected areas where the permit fishery occurs is large enough to protect the local population and the fishery, and to identify the links between the fishing areas and permit spawning locations. The satellite tagging effort is addressing the second and third goals.

The angler who caught the 21 pound permit that received new jewelry was new BTT member Per Ramfjord. Per had not caught a permit prior to this trip, and this was one of 3 he caught during the week. The guide who led Per to this historic permit was Victor Jacobs. Per’s able-bodied fishing partner and net-man for the catch was John Irving.

Despite windy conditions, the group caught multiple permit every day of the trip, and had many shots at permit each day.

Special thanks to Frontiers Travel for setting up and helping to sponsor the trip, and to the folks at Belcampo Lodge for hosting.

Also a big thanks to Dennis Garbutt and fishing guides Scully, Oliver, Alex, Yogi, Victor, Chino. Despite windy conditions, anglers caught permit every day of the trip, and learned a lot about permit from their guides. All of the anglers mentioned how impressed they were with the safe handling practices used by the guides when handling, tagging, and releasing permit.

Bonefish and Tarpon Trust Calls For Petition Signatures in Support of Two Proposed Bahamian National Parks

Photo: Justin Lewis / BTT

Photo: Justin Lewis / BTT

The Bahamas is world-renown as an excellent bonefish fishery. In fact, the fishery is so popular for traveling anglers that the annual economic impact of the fishery exceeds $141 million. Yet the fishery will remain healthy only if the habitats remain healthy. As part of the Bahamas Initiative, BTT has been working with the Fisheries Conservation Foundation and Cape Eleuthera Institute to provide data to support the efforts of the Bahamas National Trust to create National Parks to protect habitats that bonefish use for feeding and spawning.

Proposals to create National Parks for habitat protection for Grand Bahama Island and Abaco are now on the desk of the Prime Minister of the Bahamas. We are asking you to support the efforts of our Bahamas collaborators – Bahamas National Trust, Friends of the Environment, Abaco Fly Fishing Guides Association, and the lodges and fishing guides on these islands – by making your voice heard.

If you fish for bonefish in the Bahamas, then you know how important this is. If you haven’t yet fished in the Bahamas, it is surely on your bucket list, so make sure the opportunity is there for the future.

Below are links to 2 petitions: 1 to support the Grand Bahama parks, one to support the Abaco parks. Please sign them both, and tell your friends about it so they can sign too.

Grand Bahama – http://bahamasparks.org

Abaco – http://www.thepetitionsite.com/266/809/008/ask-the-bahamas-government-to-protect-bonefish-habitat-in-abaco/

 

BTT Rolls Out New Membership Incentives For 2015

BTT relies on members to fund and spread the word about the important issues that we are tackling around bonefish, tarpon and permit fisheries. New for 2015, BTT has rolled out new membership incentive items for a number of our membership levels.

Coming soon, we will have a limited-time only $25 special for first-time members who will get a BTT trucker-style hat when they join. These hats will also be optionally available instead of the traditional BTT ball cap at all membership levels.

PrintThanks to a generous partnership with Costa Sunglasses, members at the $1,000 “Grey Ghost Sponsor” level will now enjoy their choice of any style of Costa sunglasses, along with the other membership incentive items at that level.

IMG_3064The membership incentives for the new Permit Patron $5,000 level include an Orvis Helios 2 rod and Mirage reel, 50% off Patagonia online purchases for a year and also includes a custom Bugger Beast Fly Box from Cliff Outdoors with one-of-a-kind artwork by artist Jorge Martinez.

The “Tarbone President’s Circle” and the new “Tarbone Chairman’s Circle” include all of the previously listed membership incentives, but also a custom embroidered fishing shirt from Patagonia and a special “President’s Circle” or “Chairman’s Circle” pin.

To become a BTT member or to renew your current membership, visit www.btt.org. If you are unsure of the status of your membership, please contact Bob Halstead at bob@bonefishtarpontrust.org.

Fishing in Cuba: The Last Great Frontier?

Originally published on Forbes.com

An encounter on the Florida Keys flats. Photo by Tom Rosenbauer

An encounter on the Florida Keys flats. Photo by Tom Rosenbauer

On a recent evening in Manhattan, supporters of the conservation group, the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (BTT), gathered together at an Upper East Side club that preferred to remain unnamed. Much of the talk at the fundraiser was about a formerly clandestine subject in its own right: Cuba and the fishing opportunities that may open up sooner rather than later thanks to President Obama’s call for normalizing the relations between the United States and its former hemispheric foe. To many anglers—and particularly to those who chase bonefish, tarpon and permit, which happen to be the three species that the BTT strives to protect—Cuba appears to be the “last, best place,” the frontier that represents some sort of terminus for flyfishing’s own form of manifest destiny.

That frontier, though, may be more connected to the rest of the Western Hemisphere’s flats fisheries than previously realized. That should come as no real surprise: The relationship between the U.S. and Cuba has always been a complicated and intertwined one.

Click here to read more on Forbes.com

Barracuda, bonefish on decline in the Florida Keys

Original source: Hatch Magazine

Bonefish are on the decline in the Florida Keys. So are the fish that eat them. Barracuda, once a traditional target of winter flats fishing, are now scarce.

“I just started guiding in 2000, which is not long in the whole scheme of things,” Key West guide John O’ Hearn said. “In the winter you could go to any flat and have a few cudas on it, even if it wasn’t a good flat. You could go anywhere and there would be barracudas. Over the years, you had to get better and better [at finding them]. There are places still with good barracuda fishing. You just have to keep working harder and harder.”

Barracuda

Photo: Dan Decibel

With so few fish, O’Hearn and other colleagues in the Lower Keys Guides Association started a Save the Barracuda Campaign and urged the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission to implement harvest regulations to protect the saltwater predator.

The FWC, which held two meetings for public discussion the issue this winter, is expected to present a draft rule to its commission this fall.

“It’s important in a lot of ways,” said O’Hearn, former president of the LKGA. “In December, January, in the winter time, [barracuda] may be the main target species on the flats when the water gets colder. Obviously, when it’s warm and nice you can go tarpon and permit fishing. In the winter, people coming down are expecting to cuda fish. It’s fun and they’re big, they run and they jump.

“The last five, six, seven years, the numbers have gone down dramatically across the board. We’ve all been talking about it. We’ve all been saying the same thing. They’re fewer and fewer of them.”

According to the FWC, commercial harvest of Keys barracuda has increased significantly the past few years, from 10,000 pounds in 2011 to 50,000 in 2013. Barracuda is considered an unregulated species commercially, meaning commercial fishermen can harvest as much as they want. Recreational anglers are limited to two barracuda or 100 pounds, whichever is greater.

“When you realize how the fish is managed by the state, then you realize it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” said O’Hearn, who credited the LKGA’s Doug Kilpatrick with initially spearheading the barracuda issue. “What we’re seeing, anecdotal or not, is a dramatic difference in the numbers. You have a fish with commercial viability with no commercial regulations.”

Although barracuda is not considered popular table fare in the United States, it is considered a delicacy in the Caribbean. Barracuda, O’Hearn said, typically sell for $1.50, $2 a pound. However, he stressed the LKGA is not blaming commercial fishermen for the dwindling population.

“We’re not trying to point our fingers at commercial fishing by saying that’s why they’re disappearing,” O’Hearn said. “Nobody knows. The state is not going to find out. It should be up to the state to make rules that make more sense. It’s absurd to have a commercial fish where there’s no limits. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that’s a recipe for disaster.”

Other conservation groups have taken notice, including Bonefish & Tarpon Trust.

“They’re a high-level predator, so there’s a lot of interaction [on the flats],” Dr. Aaron Adams, the operations director of BTT, said. “People say that with less barracuda, there’s more bonefish, but there’s a balance in the system. Taking out a component of a balanced system can have unintended consequences. The best bonefish fisheries have an intact ecosystem that includes predators. Losing barracuda in the Keys adds another symptom to the overall illness.”

BTT Visits Lucayan International School in Freeport, Grand Bahama

IMGP2656Education and outreach are essential components of a successful conservation program. Much of our outreach effort is aimed at fishing guides and anglers, but educating the next generation is key to the future of the bonefish fishery.

This past March, Justin Lewis, BTT’s Bahamas Initiative Coordinator, took advantage of an invitation from Joanna Wilkinson, a primary school teacher at the Lucayan International School in Freeport, Grand Bahama, to talk to her sixth grade class about Bahamian shallow water environments and bonefish. The 10- and 11-year-olds were enthralled as they learned about the importance of mangroves, seagrass flats, coral reefs, the organisms that live in these habitats, and how these habitats are interconnected. New to most of the students was the importance of the recreational bonefish fishery. By the end of Justin’s presentation, the students had a strong grasp of the importance of a healthy ecosystem to their lives in the Bahamas.

Justin’s presentation was timely because it gave the students ideas for their upcoming Marine Conservation Exhibition that was to focus on Water Management, Cruise Ship Pollution, Caribbean Coral Reefs, and Mangrove Depletion. Justin was pleased with the student presentations at the Exhibition a week later, and sees promise for the future of marine conservation in the Bahamas. Stay tuned for reports of Justin’s continuing work with students.

Conservation Captain of the Month: Capt. Buddy Pinder

buddy_picThe Conservation Captain for April 2015 is Abaco, Bahamas guide Capt. Buddy Pinder. Buddy, along with his wife Cindy, has been instrumental in helping BTT tag bonefish on Abaco. They have also graciously hosted BTT scientists and volunteers at their home, donated their time and boat, and they have been active in getting other guides involved with BTT. Their efforts have helped gain local community support for BTT’s bonefish conservation efforts in the Bahamas.

Click here for more info on about Capt. Buddy Pinder.

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

My first guided fishing trip was in the now world-famous Marls of Abaco in 1990. I guided part-time from April to July until 1998 when I became a full-time bonefish guide.

How did you become a fishing guide?

I made my living as a full-time lobster fisherman for more than 20 years.  My father was a taxi driver and he got me my first fishing clients one summer when his customers asked about somebody to take them bonefishing.  I didn’t know anything about bonefishing then, but I had grown up in The Marls, fishing and hunting (blue wing teal ducks) with my father from the time I was a little boy so I knew where the fish were.  My third client brought me a fly rod and it wasn’t long before my passion for fly-fishing took root and I learned about bonefish behavior and where to fish and started building my guiding business.  In 1998 I became a part-time lobster fisherman dedicating 10 months of the year to bonefishing full-time.

How many days per year do you guide?

I probably guide 180 –200 days per year and I have to say, I have some the best clients anywhere!

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

The Marls of Abaco is the home of some of the best bonefishing on the planet so that is what my clients want to catch when they fish with me.

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

The fish population in The Marls was astounding after 30 years of hurricane-free seasons.  Hurricane Floyd in 1999, which was horrible, killed a huge number of bonefish – maybe as much as half of the fish population.  And then we had Hurricane Frances & Hurricane Jean in 2004 which were both severe and killed fish.  And several more hurricanes since that were less memorable but still damaging.  The most recent were Hurricane Irene in 2011 and then Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, which killed even more fish.  In my estimation, the storms over the past 15 years have killed about 50% of the fish in The Marls so it has been a noticeable change since I started guiding in the early 90’s.  There are also more guides and anglers fishing the area today so the fish behavior has changed.

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

The entire area needs to be protected – The Marls, the spawning areas and the travel corridor the fish use between those areas.  I, along with the Abaco Fly Fishing Guides Association, The Bahamas National Trust, Friends of the Environment on Abaco and the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust have worked very hard trying to get the areas declared national parks.  Everything has been submitted to the Bahamas Government to make that happen more than a year ago but we are still waiting for them to finalize the proposal.  We also have to be careful about over fishing.  Too many boats in the area or fishing the same areas over and over again targeting the same fish leads to a change in the fish behavior so education of guides and anglers plays a big role too.

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

Despite the changes there are still an incredible amount of bonefish in The Marls.  It is truly an amazing fishery!  200 square miles of skinny water averaging a little more than a foot deep with wind-driven tides lead to entire days of perfect bonefishing.  I love poling the boat, “hunting” for fish for my clients to catch.  It’s a special day on the water for them and me.  My days are peaceful and quiet and consist of beauty on the water, with a dash of heart-thumping excitement and fun catching bonefish, as well as great conversations with some of the nicest folks you’d ever want to meet.  It really makes going to work a pleasure!

Why do you support Bonefish and Tarpon Trust?

I support the BTT for the science and their teaching.  My wife invited Dr. Aaron Adams to Abaco many years ago to put on a presentation for the Abaco Fly Fishing Guides Association after he published one of his first bonefishing articles in a magazine.   As guides, we all wanted to know more about bonefish.  We all knew things that the bonefish did but we certainly didn’t know why.  Different guides on different parts of the island all saw different behaviors.  When we all started talking about our little piece of the puzzle, Dr. Adams was able to put it all together for us!  He was the one that realized we had found a travel corridor of spawning bonefish and the pre-spawning aggregation site.  We were well aware of this behavior for more than 15 years – and in one conversation it all came together.  It was an exciting meeting!  We started tagging bonefish with the BTT in 2009 and have learned so much from each recapture about where our fish live and the small area that is their home range. I always suspected we were fishing the same fish but now we know for sure.  That is why we have to be careful about fishing the same areas over and over again.  Our behavior will affect the fishes behavior.  We also learned through research with the BTT that our bonefish live long lives and are old – the average age of the fish is about 12 – 14 years old in The Marls.  It’s exciting now to see many smaller fish in The Marls which leads us to believe that our fish population may be growing again.

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

The most important thing the BTT does is give local guides a voice and a national platform by working hand in hand with them, providing funding and science to learn about a species or fishery, provide documentation and ultimately protect the fish or the area.  The guides knowledge is validated with scientific data as we learn more and become better stewards of our environment and then we can teach others about the fishery we love.

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

Anybody that has an interest in conservation or saltwater fishing should support the BTT.  While many of my clients are from Florida I have clients from all over the world and I would hope that an angler from Alaska, Montana, Maine, England, Norway, France, Japan, Egypt, South America or South Africa to name a few, would become a member of the BTT so that they and their children and my children and I can enjoy a healthy fishery now and for generations to come.  We need to preserve what we love regardless of where we live.

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?

Lately, I’ve been doing deep-drop fishing for red snapper.  I find them just off shore, in front of my house, in 400 ft. to 600 ft. of water.  I go on calm days in my flats boat with a hand-held GPS and an electric rod/reel combination, some heavy leads and box of squid.  They sure are good eating!  If it’s not calm enough to head out into the ocean, I’ll take my wife, Cindy, bonefishing in The Marls.  Sometimes I even get a chance to catch a fish or two.  We use 8 wt. fly rods and you will never go wrong with a pearl Gotcha tied on your leader.

Tell us one of your favorite fishing stories.

In the winter we get a lot of barracuda on the flats and they are good eating because there is no reef for 100 miles.  Two weeks ago I was poling along and I saw a nice cuda laying up in ten inches of water, so I grabbed a spinning rod and threw a tube lure with two treble hooks at the cuda.  I rapidly reeled it past the fish and it struck the lure.  I handed the rod to the lady angler I was fishing with and she started reeling it in.  The cuda was only about 12 pounds but she was having one heck of a time reeling it in.  She kept working at it and after about ten minutes she finally got it next to the boat.  Imagine our surprise when we realized there was also a three foot, 10 pound lemon shark hooked up too!  It’s not everyday that you catch a barracuda and a shark at the same time and that sure explained why it was so hard reeling it in.  That’s a fishing day she’ll never forget and that’s the first time a shark/cuda hook up has ever happened to me in 25 years too!

BTT Supports IGFA’s Efforts to Protect Florida’s Forage Fish

FloridaForageFish_logo2Bonefish Tarpon Trust is joining our colleagues at the International Game Fish Association who are leading an effort that will help protect the future of Florida’s fisheries. It’s all about forage fish – in other words, the small fish that are eaten by tarpon, redfish, snook, barracuda and even bonefish that we care so much about. We want to make sure that our game fish have enough food to sustain them, and the habitats that support forage fish are protected. Our goal is to work with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to make sure that forage fisheries are managed so that the food needs of Florida’s larger saltwater fish are taken into consideration during stock assessments for the species that eat them, and when setting fishing rules for forage fish and their habitats. This is an effort that BTT supports, and we urge you to support as well.

Here is how you can help. Visit the Florida Forage Fish website and sign the Forage Fish Pledge: http://floridaforagefish.igfa.org