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Tavernier, FL, United States

Frezza P.E.,Everglades Science Center at Tavernier | Clem S.E.,Audubon Florida
Environmental Biology of Fishes

Florida Keys’ bonefish (Albula vulpes) are an important component of the recreational fishery and their population can serve as an indicator of ecosystem status. Anecdotal reports from long-time fishers of Florida Bay suggest a dramatic reduction in bonefish abundance in recent years. In absence of a reliable long-term dataset, experienced fishers can provide critical information on historical changes in this fishery. To characterize and quantify historical trends and the contemporary status of the Florida Bay bonefish population and fishery, 64 of the fishery’s most reputable and experienced fishers were surveyed using a questionnaire. All but one respondent reported the bonefish population in Florida Bay had declined over the course of their fishing career. Respondents indicated a 78 % decline in bonefish abundance in Florida Bay with no correlation between perceived decline and fisher experience. A significant period of bonefish decline was noted 2001–2012 with 76 % of respondents indicating the largest decline in the population occurred 2007–2011. Fishing effort for bonefish decreased 37 % over the course of respondents’ careers, with 74 % of those respondents indicating this reduced effort was due to lack of fish. Forty-four percent of respondents suggested water quality issues as the primary reason for the observed decline. Two of the larger bonefish decline periods (mid 1990s and 2006–08) corresponded to periods of sustained algal blooms in Florida Bay. The most significant decline in bonefish abundance throughout the range of the Florida Keys was reported to have occurred in Florida Bay. Several possible factors leading to the perceived decline in the Florida Bay bonefish population are discussed, and the continued need to focus on this population throughout Everglades restoration efforts is emphasized. © 2015 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht Source

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