Fishipedia Top 5: Things we know thanks to bonefish-tagging

September 30th, 2011| 3 Comments

A few secrets we’ve uncovered about the grey ghost since tagging programs started in Florida…

Bonefish1. The University of Miami’s bonefish-tagging program was initiated in Florida in 1998. Prior to that, very little was known about the movement of the fish, their growth rates and population. Fast-forward a few years and we’re starting to piece the puzzle together. Tagging operations and census studies have enabled researchers to estimate the current Florida Keys bonefish population at around 320,000. The value of a single bonefish has subsequently been estimated at $3,500 each year, making them worth nearly $75,000 over a lifetime.

2. In the first year of the University of Miami’s tagging program (1998), a total of 176 fish were tagged and released. The number of fish tagged then rose steadily and peaked in 2005 with 1196.

3. In terms of fish captured, Captain Joe Gonzalez, who fishes Biscayne Bay and the Upper Keys leads the way – by quite some distance too. Since 2001, he has tagged and released 1,324 fish (the only angler to pass the 1,000 mark). Of those fish, he has recaptured 52, giving him a recapture rate of 3.9%. Captain Bob Branham is his nearest rival, with 912 captures and 45 recaptures at 4.9%.

4. Results gleaned from both the Caribbean and Florida suggest that bonefish in the Caribbean grow at a slower rate than their Florida Keys cousins: a fork length of 23 inches in the Caribbean represents a 16-year-old fish while the same length represents a fish just 6 years old in the Keys.

5. There have been some great recapture stories since tagging began, but perhaps the most notable came in 2006. It was December, and Dr. Brian Harris of Fort Myers was wading in the South Bight of Andros Island when he saw, cast to, and caught, a 28.5-inch fish estimated at 8lbs. Noticing that the fish was tagged, he started trying to clean the algae off the tag, and inadvertently removed it in the process. It subsequently turned out this fish had been tagged on February 11 2005 off Key Biscayne by captain Joe Gonzalez – he of the highest number of bonefish taggings and recaptures. In the intervening 10 months, the fish had gained an inch in length and travelled 186 miles across the Gulf Stream — the longest bonefish movement ever recorded. All  previously accepted wisdom on the subject of bonefish migration was immediately dumped in the trash.


>> Something you want to add to our list? Let us know in the comments below…

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  1. avatar
    Brian Harris says

    the circle is finally coplete….i was fortunate enough to fish with Joe in Biscayne last August and go to the same flat “our fish” was tagged.
    unfortunately….he wasnt there!

  2. avatar
    fishipedia says

    Or maybe he was there, hanging out on the edge of the flat saying to his friends: “Seriously? These guys again?” Hopefully you’ll catch up with him again one of these days. Now that would be an incredible story…
    Thanks for getting in touch Brian. All the best!

  3. avatar
    Keith McMenamy says

    Simply incredible !

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