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

Adams, Aaron J., Shenker, Jonathan M., Jud, Zachary R., Lewis, Justin P., Carey, Eric, Danylchuk, Andy J.
Environmental biology of fishes 2019 v.102 no.2 pp. 159-173
Albula vulpes, acoustics, adults, anthropogenic activities, environmental knowledge, fisheries law, grouper, habitat conservation, habitat destruction, habitats, information needs, larvae, marine fish, overfishing, snapper, spawning, telemetry, tropical fish, Bahamas
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.