Bonefish to be Designated as Catch and Release in Florida

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Bonefish to be Designated as Catch and Release in Florida

Florida's top fishery managers agree: Bonefish are too valuable to kill.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission decided at their February meeting to move forward on a new rule that would declare bonefish a catch-and-release species, with no harvest of them allowed.

The Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, based in the Florida Keys, in 2008 launched a campaign to end the state's one-fish-per-day allowable catch for bonefish.

"The Bonefish and Tarpon Trust is pleased that the FWC commissioners took the step to help protect one of the most valuable recreational fisheries in the state," said Aaron Adams, a marine scientist who serves as operations director for the trust. "The designation of bonefish as a catch-and-release species puts Florida on par with destinations [like] Belize and Puerto Rico, competing for anglers who travel to fish the flats."

The rule change remains tentative. The FWC will consider final approval at its April meeting in Havana, near Tallahassee.

As proposed, anglers would be allowed to catch bonefish and briefly remove them from the water for a photograph. Flats fishing tournaments officially sanctioned by the state would allow competing anglers to bring a bonefish in a boat's live well to a weigh station before a live release.

"Bonefish are an extremely valuable Florida game fish," said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto, who splits time between Key Largo and Miami. "These proposed rules will further protect bonefish populations in South Florida while providing anglers with opportunities to document a record catch and enjoy the exciting action of bonefish fishing tournaments."

Adams said, "FWC staff did a great job working with anglers, guides, [conservation groups] and tournament organizers to craft the regulations, which accommodate tournaments and record catches. This is a good step in elevating the status of bonefish, which should help in work toward the long term conservation of the fishery."

Most Florida Keys fishing guides say the harvest ban would not pose a problem because they always release bonefish by tradition.

While bonefish are not often eaten -- they are named bonefish for a reason -- "they are stealthy, fast-swimming fish that are exciting and challenging to catch," notes the FWC.

Bonefish generally are found only on shallow-water flats where they forage for food.

A recent study by scientists at the University of Miami estimated the value of a single bonefish in the Florida Keys to be $3,500 each year, and nearly $75,000 over the lifespan of the fish.

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