During the first week of December a group of scientists from Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, the Florida Institute of Technology, and University of Massachusetts Amherst undertook the third year of the Abaco bonefish spawning study. For the first time in this program, the crew was able to work from a vessel stationed on site for the week-long project. Oscar Pinder, a local fishermen and business owner, rented the team a 48 foot lobster boat, the Lady Breanna, to use as a research platform for the study.
Based on work in the previous two years, the science team was hoping to learn more about pre-spawning and spawning behaviours of bonefish. Although the team learned a lot, it wasn’t in the way they expected. The team was able to tag and track only two bonefish schools during the week (they expected many more bonefish to be present), so they weren’t able to conduct research on the many schools they were expecting. However, the fish they tracked in the two schools that appeared at the site confirmed findings from the previous year’s research, which included porpoising behaviour at dusk, offshore movements after dusk for spawning, and immediate departure from the site after spawning.
With some of the data from previous research confirmed, we have a better handle on exactly what behaviours to look for when searching for spawning sites in other areas. But we also learned that bonefish spawning migrations and spawning activities may be more variable than we thought. Perhaps the most interesting information, however, is what we didn’t expect to learn – that in this third year of study the bonefish appeared to arrive on a quarter moon rather than full or new moons (as we had observed previously on Abaco, Eleuthera, and Andros). Questions of interest include: Were the bonefish reacting to different environmental conditions than in previous years, how are they able to communicate that spawning would occur at a different moon phase than normal, will spawning this year be as successful as in previous years? At the end of our trip we also learned that local grouper had already spawned, which was a month earlier than what the local fishermen expected based on their experiences. Is there something bigger going on that is affecting more than just bonefish?
n any case, the areas on Abaco and Grand Bahama Island where we have been working have been proposed for habitat protections based on the work we have done so far. We will continue to work hard to get this figured out. We have to, for the future of the fishery.
For the Abaco spawning work, a big thanks to South Abaco Adventures for their essential support.