Bonefish, Albula vulpes
Bonefish occur in the coastal and inshore waters of tropical seas worldwide. In the
western Atlantic, bonefish occur in the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, and throughout the
Caribbean. Bonefish have leptocephalus larvae that develop in nearshore waters and recruit to
inshore areas at about 40–70 days of age and just before transforming into juveniles (Mojica et
al. 1995). Recruitment into bays and sounds occurs during winter and spring, especially during
periods when flood tides coincide with dark, moonless nights (Mojica et al. 1995; Harnden et al.
1999). Growth is rapid through age 6 then slows considerably (Table 1, Crabtree et al. 1996).
Predicted mean fork lengths (FL) at age for female bonefish are as follows: 11.2" at age 1, 15.0"
at age 2, 17.9" at age 3, 20.0" at age 4, and 25.6" at age 10. Males are slightly smaller-at-age
than females. The maximum observed age for bonefish is 19 years. Bonefish mature to spawn
at age 3 or 4 with 50% of males mature at 16.5" FL and 50% of females mature at 19.2"
(Crabtree et al. 1997). Spawning appears to occur during November–May, probably in deep
Bonefish diets consist of a variety of benthic and epibenthic organisms, including
crustaceans, mollusks, and bony fishes. In south Florida, xanthid crabs, gulf toadfish Opsanus
beta, portunid crabs, alphaeid shrimp, and penaeid shrimp made up most of the diets of bonefish
of 228–702 mm fork length (Crabtree et al. 1998).
The Marine Recreational Fishery Statistics Survey provides the only estimates of
bonefish landings made in Florida. This survey provides very imprecise estimates of catch rate
because few bonefish anglers are interviewed each year. In 2005, no bonefish were observed
landed in the Florida survey (Fig. 1). Total-catch-rate estimates pooled across both coasts of
Florida fluctuated without trend (Fig. 2).
Empirical estimates of total mortality for bonefish collected during 1989–1995 were not
different than theoretical estimates of natural mortality deduced from observed maximum age.
This suggests that there is low fishing mortality on bonefish in Florida (Crabtree et al. 1996).
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Florida’s Inshore and Nearshore Species
by Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
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