Group Succeeds in Spawning Wild Bonefish

Research project hatches live bonefish larvae in captivity for the first time ever.

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Bonefish are among the top species anglers target while fishing in the Florida Keys.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

The Bonefish Restoration Research Project achieved a breakthrough earlier this month with the spawning of wild bonefish and the hatching of their live larvae, during field research in the Bahamas.

A team led by Dr. Jon Shenker of the Florida Institute of Technology and Dr. Paul Wills of Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Organization successfully induced mature egg production in a wild female bonefish using hormones, and then stripped her eggs to fertilize them with spawn from a male bonefish. Within 24 hours, the eggs hatched into larvae.

This is a first for marine science and lays the groundwork for future success in raising bonefish in captivity, eventually replenishing populations in the Florida Keys.

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The ability of scientists to induce spawning in bonefish offers another tool to enhancing bonefish populations in the Florida Keys.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

“We now know that we can indeed get bonefish to spawn in captivity,” says Shenker. “This success will help us optimize methods to induce spawning of fish brought in from the natural habitat, and to spawn fish maintained for a long time in a controlled aquaculture facility.”

BRRP is a major initiative sponsored by the South Florida-based Bonefish & Tarpon Trust in collaboration with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and FAU-HBO. The five-year project started in 2016 and aims to study bonefish spawning in aquaculture systems, rear the larvae and juveniles and ultimately help restore the ecosystem of the Florida Keys, where flats fishing is estimated to contribute more than $465 million to the economy.

“This is a great step forward in our research and development of methods to rear bonefish in captivity,” said BTT President Jim McDuffie. “Our team was able to produce eggs and larvae from wild bonefish that had not gone through the species’ usual spawning behaviors in the wild. Ultimately, success in this project will give us another tool in our toolbox as we work to restore the bonefish population in the Florida Keys.”