Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 102, Issue 2, pp 159–173 | Cite as

Identifying pre-spawning aggregation sites for bonefish (Albula vulpes) in the Bahamas to inform habitat protection and species conservation

  • Aaron J. AdamsEmail author
  • Jonathan M. Shenker
  • Zachary R. Jud
  • Justin P. Lewis
  • Eric Carey
  • Andy J. Danylchuk


Many species of tropical marine fish aggregate to spawn, and the dynamics of these aggregations make them especially susceptible to overfishing and habitat loss. Spawning aggregations tend to attract reproductive adults from a large geographic area, sites are traditionally used across generations, and larval dispersal can help supply regional fish stocks. Thus, anthropogenic impacts to spawning sites can have population-level consequences over local and regional scales. A critical component in the challenge to conservation of aggregation-spawning species is identification and subsequent protection of spawning sites. Here we summarize fieldwork conducted to create a protocol for identification of pre-spawning aggregation sites for bonefish, Albula vulpes, in The Bahamas. The mixed-methods, field-based protocol includes Traditional Ecological Knowledge, assessment of spawning readiness, tracking using acoustic telemetry, behavioral observations, and mark-recapture, that combined meet the requirements for identifying pre-spawning aggregation sites. Pre-spawning site identification, in conjunction with information on other life stages and habitats, is essential for successful spatial management strategies. Since bonefish and many other tropical fishes that form spawning aggregation are ‘data poor’ and occur in regions where enforcement of fishery regulations is lacking, spatial management is often the best conservation strategy. This protocol builds upon similar previous efforts to identify spawning sites for groupers and snappers, and will contribute to information needs for conservation is an essential component in the conservation of aggregation-forming species such as bonefish across broad spatial scales.


Fish conservation Spawning aggregation Spawning behavior Albula vulpes Mixed-methods approach Recreational fisheries Acoustic telemetry 



Funding provided by Bonefish & Tarpon Trust. Thank you to the following for providing field support and accommodations: Abaco Fly Fishing Guides Association members, B. Pinder. C. Pinder, J. Albury, T. Albury, R. Albury, D. Sawyer, Bair’s Lodge, Abaco Lodge, North Riding Point, Mangrove Cay Club, East End Lodge, Andros South lodge, Deep Water Cay, H2O Bonefishing, Delphi Club, Black Fly Lodge, C. Lewis, L. Lewis, South Abaco Adventures.


  1. Adams AJ, Horodysky AZ, McBride RS, MacDonald TC, Shenker J, Guindon K, Harwell HD, Ward R, Carpenter K (2013) Conservation status and research needs for tarpons (Megalopidae), ladyfishes (Elopidae), and bonefishes (Albulidae). Fish Fish 15:280–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aguilar-Perera A, Aguilar-Dávila W (1996) A spawning aggregation of Nassau grouper Epinephelus striatus Pisces: Serranidae in the Mexican Caribbean. Environ Biol Fish 45:351–361CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ahrens A, Slagle Z, Stevens S, Adams A (2015) Evaluating the efficacy of the Florida keys’ angler-assisted permit tagging program. Environ Biol Fish 98:2251–2261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Anderson WW (1958) Larval development, growth, and spawning of striped mullet (Mugil cephalus) along the south Atlantic coast of the United States. Fish Bull 58:501–519Google Scholar
  5. Baldwin JD, Snodgrass D (2008) Reproductive biology of Atlantic tarpon, Megalops atlanticus. Pages. In: Ault JS (ed) Biology and management of the world tarpon and bonefish fisheries. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 195–201Google Scholar
  6. Beets J (2001) Declines in finfish resources in Tarawa lagoon, Kiribati, emphasize the need for increased conservation effort. Atoll Res Bull 490:1–14Google Scholar
  7. Beets J, Friedlander A (1998) Evaluation of a conservation strategy: a spawning aggregation closure for red hind, Epinephelus guttatus, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Environ Biol Fish 55:91–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Boucek RE, Lewis JP, Shultz AD, Philipp DP, Stewart BD, Jud ZR, Zuckerman ZC, Adams AJ (this issue) Using mark-recapture in a catch and release fishery to inform protected area designation: case study from the Bahamas. Environ Biol FishGoogle Scholar
  9. Colin PL (1996) Longevity of some coral reef fish spawning aggregations. Copeia 1996:189–191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Colin PL, Sadovy YJ, Domeier ML (2003) Manual for the study and conservation of reef fish spawning aggregations. Society for the Conservation of Reef Fish Aggregations Special Publication No. 1 (version 1.0), pp 1–98+iiiGoogle Scholar
  11. Colton DE, Alevizon WS (1983) Feeding ecology of bonefish in Bahamian waters. Trans Am Fish Soc 112:178–184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cooke SJ, Philipp DP (2004) Behavior and mortality of caught-and-released bonefish (Albula spp.) in Bahamian waters with implications for a sustainable recreational fishery. Biol Conserv 118:599–607CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cooke SJ, Suski CD, Arlinghaus R, Danylchuk AJ (2013) Voluntary institutions and behaviours as alternatives to formal regulations in recreational fisheries management. Fish Fish 14:439–457CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Crabtree RE, Harnden CW, Snodgrass D, Stevens C (1996) Age, growth, and mortality of bonefish, Albula vulpes, from the waters of the Florida keys. Fish Bull 94:442–451Google Scholar
  15. Crabtree RE, Stevens C, Snodgrass D, Stengard FJ (1998) Feeding habits of bonefish, Albula vulpes, from waters of the Florida keys. Fish Bull 96:754–766Google Scholar
  16. Danylchuk SE, Danylchuk AJ, Cooke SJ, Goldberg TL, Koppelman J, Philipp DP (2007a) Effects of recreational angling on the post-release behavior and predation of bonefish (Albula vulpes): the role of equilibrium status at the time of release. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 346:127–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Danylchuk AJ, Danylchuk SE, Cooke SJ, Goldberg TL, Koppelman J, Philipp DP (2007b) Biology and management of bonefish (Albula spp) in the Bahamian archipelago. In: Ault J (ed) Biology and management of the world’s tarpon and bonefish fisheries. CRC Press, Boca RatonGoogle Scholar
  18. Danylchuk AJ, Cooke SJ, Goldberg TL, Suski CD, Murchie KJ, Danylchuk SE, Shultz AD, Haak CR, Brooks EJ, Oronti A, Koppelman JB, Philipp DP (2011) Aggregations and offshore movements as indicators of spawning activity of bonefish (Albula vulpes) in the Bahamas. Mar Biol 158:1981–1999CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Danylchuk AJ, Lewis J, Jud Z, Shenker J, Adams AJ (this issue) Behavioral observations of bonefish during prespawning aggregations in the Bahamas: clues to drive broader conservation efforts. Environ Biol FishGoogle Scholar
  20. Domeier ML (2012) Revisiting spawning aggregations: definitions and challenges. In: Sadovy de Mitcheson Y, Colin P (eds) Reef fish spawning aggregations: biology, research and management. Fish & Fisheries series, vol 35. Springer, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  21. Erisman B, Heyman W, Kobara S, Ezer T, Pittman S, Aburto-Oropeza O, Nemeth RS (2017) Fish spawning aggregations: where well-placed management actions can yield big benefits for fisheries and conservation. Fish Fish 18:128–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fedler A (2010) The economic impact of flats fishing in the Bahamas. Report to the Everglades Foundation. Available Accessed 2 Aug 2018
  23. Fedler A (2013) Economic impact of the Florida keys flats fishery. Report to Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, Key Largo, Florida. Accessed 2 Aug 2018
  24. Fedler A (2014) Economic impact of flats fishing in Belize. Report to Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, Key Largo, Florida. Accessed 2 Aug 2018
  25. Gerhardinger LC, Bertoncini AA, Hostim-Silva M (2006) Local ecological knowledge and Goliath grouper spawning aggregations in the South Atlantic Ocean: Goliath grouper spawning aggregations in Brazil. SPC traditional marine resource management and knowledge information Bulletin #20, pp 33–34Google Scholar
  26. Heyman WD, Olivares M, Fulton S, Bourillon L, Caamal J, Rinot C, Kobara S (2014) Prediction and verification of reef fish spawning aggregation sites in Quintana Roo, Mexico. In: McConney P, Medeiros R, Pena M (ed) Enhancing stewardship in small-scale fisheries: practices and perspectives. CERMES technical report no. 73, pp 73–81Google Scholar
  27. Humston R, Ault JS, Larkon MF, Luo J (2005) Movements and site fidelity of the bonefish Albula vulpes in the northern Florida keys determined by acoustic telemetry. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 291:237–248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Johannes RE (1998) The case for data-less marine resource management: examples from tropical nearshore finfisheries. TREE 13:243–246Google Scholar
  29. Johannes RE, Yeeting B (2001) I-Kiribati knowledge and management of Tarawa’s lagoon resources. Atoll Res Bull 489:1–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Johannes RE, Freeman MMR, Hamilton RJ (2000) Ignore fishers’ knowledge and miss the boat. Fish Fish 1:257–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mojica R, Shenker JM, Harnden CW, Wagner DE (1995) Recruitment of bonefish, Albula vulpes around Lee Stocking Island, Bahamas. Fish Bull 93:666–674Google Scholar
  32. Murchie KJ, Cooke SJ, Danylchuk AJ, Danylchuck SE, Goldberg TL, Suski CD, Philipp DP (2013) Movement patterns of bonefish (Albula vulpes) in tidal creeks and coastal waters of Eleuthera the Bahamas. Fish Res 147:404–412CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Murchie KJ, Shultz AD, Stein JA, Cooke SJ, Lewis J, Franklin J, Vincent G, Brooks EJ, Claussen JE, Philipp DP (2015) Defining adult bonefish (Albula vulpes) movement corridors around Grand Bahama in the Bahamian archipelago. Environ Biol Fish 98:2203–2212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Nemeth RS (2005) Population characteristics of a recovering US Virgin Islands red hind spawning aggregation following protection. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 286:81–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Perez AU, Schmitter-Soto JJ, Adams AJ (this issue) Connectivity mediated by seasonal bonefish (Albula vulpes) migration between the Caribbean Sea and a tropical estuary of Belize and Mexico. Environ Biol FishGoogle Scholar
  36. Peters KM, Matheson RE, Taylor RG (1998) Reproduction and early life history of common snook, Centopomus undecimalis (Bloch) in Florida. Bull Mar Sci 54:509–529Google Scholar
  37. Rennert J, Shenker JM, Angulo J, Adams AJ (this issue) Age and growth of bonefish, Albula species among Cuba habitats. Environ Biol FishGoogle Scholar
  38. Rhody NR, Neidig CL, Grier HJ, Main KL, Migaud H (2013) Assessing reproductive condition in captive and wild common Snook stocks: a comparison between the wet mount technique and histological preparations. Trans Am Fish Soc 142:979–988CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Robinson J, Isidore M, Marguertie MA, Ohman MC, Payet RJ (2004) Spatial and temporal distribution of reef fish spawning aggregations in the Seychelles – an interview-based survey of artisanal fishers. WIOJMS 3(1):63–69Google Scholar
  40. Sadovy Y, Domeier ML (2005) Are aggregation-fisheries sustainable? Reef fish fisheries as a case study. Coral Reefs 24:254–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sadovy de Mitcheson Y, Cornish A, Domeier M, Colin PL, Russell M, Lindeman KC (2008) A global baseline for spawning aggregations of reef fishes. Conserv Biol 22(5):1233–1244Google Scholar
  42. Sáenz-Arroyo A, Roberts CM, Torre J, Cariño-Olvera M (2005) Using fishers’ anecdotes, naturalists’ observations and grey literature to reassess marine species at risk: the case of the Gulf grouper in the Gulf of California, Mexico. Fish Fish 6:121–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sala E, Ballesteros E, Starr RM (2001) Rapid decline of Nassau grouper spawning aggregations in Belize: fishery management and conservation needs. Fisheries 26(10):23–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Whaylen L, Pattengill-Semmens CV, Semmens BX, Bush PG, Boardman MR (2004) Observations of a Nassau grouper, Epinephelus striatus, spawning aggregation site in little Cayman, Cayman Islands, including multi-species spawning information. Environ Biol Fish 70:305–313CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bonefish & Tarpon TrustCoral GablesUSA
  2. 2.Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch Oceanographic InstituteFort PierceUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesFlorida Institute of TechnologyMelbourneUSA
  4. 4.Florida Oceanographic SocietyStuartUSA
  5. 5.Bahamas National TrustNassauBahamas
  6. 6.Department of Environmental ConservationUniversity of Massachusetts AmherstAmherstUSA

Personalised recommendations