NOVEMBER 20, 2020

Additional Protection Needed for Belize Bonefish Pre-Spawning Site

 

The bonefish pre-spawning aggregation. Photo: Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development

In late October, Dr. Addiel Perez, BTT’s Belize-Mexico Program Manager, visited a bonefish pre-spawning site in northern Belize for the fifth season in a row. In previous work, Dr. Perez showed that bonefish at this pre-spawning site migrate from throughout protected and non-protected areas of northern Belize and southern Mexico during the October through February spawning season, demonstrating the importance of this site for the regional bonefish population.

Given that the flats fishery in Belize has an annual economic impact exceeding $56 million USD and supports more than 2,100 full time jobs, it’s essential that this site and the pre-spawning bonefish receive additional conservation measures. And since previous BTT research revealed that some of the bonefish larvae spawned at this location are transported to the Florida Keys, protecting this pre-spawning site, which is within the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve, is of regional importance.

On this trip, BTT partnered with the Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development to use drone technology to better observe the pre-spawning aggregation and bonefish behavior. They observed both nurse sharks and tarpon pursuing bonefish in the pre-spawning aggregation, as well as osprey and pelicans. This contrasts with observations in the Bahamas, where Caribbean reef sharks, lemon sharks, and barracuda are the most common predators.

In addition to being vulnerable to capture by beach fish traps during their spawning migration, the bonefish are also under threat at the pre-spawning site. During their observations, Dr. Perez and colleagues saw people fishing in the area with handlines, and flats anglers casting at the pre-spawning aggregations. Given the number of predators harassing the bonefish, and the bonefish being stressed by the spawning process, the likelihood that fish caught and released survive is low. And, of course, fish that are harvested don’t get the chance to spawn. In addition, Dr. Perez is aware of tentative plans for development on adjacent lands.

Dr. Perez has already been working with the flats fishing community, who already understand the need for better conservation catch-and-release practices such as avoiding pre-spawning schools days before full moon during spawning season. Nonetheless, more will also follow with resource managers to institute better monitoring and enforcement in this protected area. An education program is soon to follow to make local fishers and flats guides and anglers aware of the negative impacts of fishing for these pre-spawning fish.

We thank Leomir Sosa, (SACD), Blue Bonefish Lodge, Omar’s Freelance and Hillian Martinez for supporting BTT’s pre-spawning monitoring of October.