A population estimate for bonefish in South Eleuthera: implications for management and development

Presented by Zachary Zuckerman

Zachary Zuckerman, Stephanie Shaw, Michael Allen, Aaron Adams, Aaron Shultz

The recreational bonefish industry is worth an estimated $141 million to The Bahamas, and is considered an important conduit for injecting tourism-generated income into the Family Islands. Despite the economic value of this primarily catch-and-release fishery, baseline data describing population metrics of bonefish in The Bahamas is lacking. Since 2004, a research effort comprised of Bahamian and United States non-governmental organizations, international universities, Bahamian bonefish guides, and volunteer citizen scientist anglers have collaborated to tag, release, and recapture bonefish throughout The Bahamas, with South Eleuthera representing the location of greatest tagging effort. Recapture data have allowed for the first population estimate of bonefish in The Bahamas, suggesting a population size of 3,500 – 4,500 bonefish inhabiting six critical flats and tidal creek ecosystems along a ~40 km of shoreline adjacent to the Great Bahama Bank. In addition, recapture data reinforces high site fidelity in bonefish and the importance of at-risk coastal habitats in supporting the bonefish fishery. The findings here provide baseline data that can be used to compare how future coastal development, habitat restoration activities, or bonefish management strategies may affect population size and habitat use by bonefish in South Eleuthera. In addition, the approach implemented here can and provide a model for generating data to support coastal management strategies and assess the impact of habitat change on bonefish populations throughout The Bahamas.

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