Bonefish (Albula vulpes) support a world-renowned fishery in South Florida, USA. However, fishing guides and anglers have been reporting significant declines in bonefish angling quality over that past three decades. In the absence of any long-term bonefish stock and ecosystem assessments, the cause of this decline in the fishery is unclear. Here we summarize our current knowledge of bonefish ecology in Florida and discuss potential causes of fishery decline. Reductions and alterations in freshwater flows from the Everglades have caused major changes in bonefish habitat, including acute (anoxic conditions) and chronic (changes in benthic flora and fauna) effects in Florida Bay and Biscayne Bay. Various pollutants from agricultural and urban runoff may also be impacting bonefish population(s) directly and/or indirectly throughout their range. Efforts to locate juvenile A. vulpes in Florida have been largely unsuccessful to date, suggesting abundances may be low, and/or juveniles have unknown habitat requirements in Florida. Further, bonefish larvae may be sourced from adult individuals outside of Florida in areas such as Cuba or Mexico, in which case bonefish conservation in other regions is highly relevant to the Florida population. Extreme weather events may have also contributed to the decline; an extreme cold spell in 2010 caused significant bonefish mortality and coincided with documented declines in the fishery. The fishery may also be impacting the population. We outline research needs and potential approaches to better understand the causes of the bonefish decline in Florida and restore populations of this ecologically and socioeconomically important species.

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Environmental Biology of Fishes
Department of Biology

Brownscombe, J.W. (Jacob W.), Danylchuk, A.J. (Andy J.), Adams, A.J. (Aaron J.), Black, B. (Brooke), Boucek, R. (Ross), Power, M. (Michael), … Cooke, S.J. (2018). Bonefish in South Florida: status, threats and research needs. Environmental Biology of Fishes. doi:10.1007/s10641-018-0820-5