Not much is known about bonefish spawning or their juvenile stages. As a $141 million-dollar industry in The Bahamas alone, understanding these crucial phases of the bonefish lifecycle is important to ensure the population is kept healthy and the fishery sustainable. In the past few months, Dr Travis Van Leuween and the Flats Ecology team focused on identifying and understanding bonefish spawning behavior.
In partnership with the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, the team has been tracking the hormone levels of 43 individual fish using blood samples to create hormone profiles during both spawning and non-spawning time periods for the last eight months. By matching hormone levels to potential spawning events, we can identify hormones which may promote reproductive cues including egg and sperm production. We have also collected data on environmental cues including lunar phase and water temperature.
Prior to the last full moon, we collected bonefish from what is believed to be a spawning aggregation in order to attempt to spawn individuals in the lab. Performing cannulations on all fish captured, we identified which individuals were fertile. We then injected our lab-reared fertile female along with the newly captured egg-bearing females with hormones to accelerate egg development and promote egg release, but unfortunately our attempts were as of now unsuccessful. We are hoping to have more luck with the next full moon when we will be joined by researchers from Florida Institute of Technology and Florida State University. This is the first parallel study to record hormone profiles and bonefish spawning in a lab environment, and we are hopeful that future attempts will be a success.