Albula vulpes

Status_ne_offStatus_dd_offStatus_lc_offStatus_nt_onStatus_vu_offStatus_en_offStatus_cr_offStatus_ew_offStatus_ex_off

Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
ANIMALIA CHORDATA ACTINOPTERYGII ALBULIFORMES ALBULIDAE

Scientific Name: Albula vulpes
Species Authority: (Linnaeus, 1758)
Taxonomic Notes: The nomenclature of the bonefish family Albulidae is currently in a state of revision. Until recently, bonefish were considered to be comprised of two species, the circumglobal Albula vulpes and the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific Albula nemoptera; however, new molecular genetic information indicates that there are at least eight morphologically indistinguishable, but genetically distinct species (Colborn et al. 2001). Wallace and Tringali (2010) have recently found nine distinct species.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Near Threatened ver 3.1
Year Published: 2012
Date Assessed: 2011-03-29
Assessor(s): Adams, A., Guindon, K., Horodysky, A., MacDonald, T., McBride, R., Shenker, J. & Ward, R.
Reviewer(s): Harwell, H. & Raynal, M.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Harwell, H.
Justification:
This species occurs in the tropical and subtropical northwest Atlantic and is closely associated with mangroves, seagrasses and other shallow coastal habitats. Given the dramatic declines in these habitats, we infer that comparable regional declines are likely throughout its range. Globally, the highest proportion of threatened mangrove species is found along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Central America. Valiela et al. (2001) estimate that mangroves have decreased worldwide by 35%, at a rate of 2% per year. Four of the 10 (40%) mangrove species present along the Pacific coasts of Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia are listed in one of the three threatened categories, and a fifth species, Rhizophora samoensis, is listed as Near Threatened (Polidoro et al. 2010). Global declines in seagrasses and coral reefs are also significant within this species' range. Therefore, we conservatively estimate habitat loss of at least 20% in the last 35 years (three generation lengths), and infer similar declines in the population of A. vulpes.

Since bonefish rely upon habitats of limited extent, they are especially susceptible to habitat loss and degradation, particularly due to climatic and anthropogenic influences. These habitats are often fragmented in nature, exacerbating this issue. As with other coastal species, fragmentation will likely have direct and indirect negative impacts on bonefish. This species exhibits high site fidelity, and is therefore especially vulnerable to habitat fragmentation. Albula vulpes is listed as Near Threatened, as it nearly meets the threshold for Vulnerable under Criterion A2c, and there are examples of localized Vulnerability in the Florida Keys, St. Croix (US Virgin Islands), Bermuda and the Yucatan Peninsula. Additional information about the direction and magnitude of regional population trends will warrant future attention.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:This species occurs in the tropical and subtropical northwest Atlantic. Genetic surveys have detected it only in the Caribbean (Pfeiler 1996, Colborn et al. 2001), Florida and the Bahamas. Thus, the species, once believed to be global in scope (Briggs 1960, Alexander 1961), now has one of the most restricted distributions among bonefishes (Bowen et al. 2008). No type locality exists, but Eschmeyer (1998) suggests that the type location may have been the Bahamas. Larvae have been collected as far north as Rhode Island.
Countries:
Native:
Anguilla; Antigua and Barbuda; Bahamas; Barbados; Belize; Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba (Saba, Sint Eustatius); Cayman Islands; Colombia; Costa Rica; Cuba; Curaçao; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Grenada; Guadeloupe; Haiti; Honduras; Jamaica; Mexico; Montserrat; Netherlands Antilles (Bonaire); Nicaragua; Panama; Puerto Rico; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Martin (French part); Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Sint Maarten (Dutch part); Trinidad and Tobago; Turks and Caicos Islands; United States; Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of; Virgin Islands, British
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Native:
Atlantic – western central
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:

There are anecdotal reports of decreasing populations in places where recreational fishing is high and/or where fish are netted (Ault et al. 2008). Bill Curtis, a legendary professional bonefish guide and a member of the 2012 class of IGFA Legendary Captains and Crew, estimated that by the early 2000s, the visible bonefish population had declined 90% compared to the late 1940s (Curtis 2004). Numerous long-time Florida Keys anglers corroborate the declines described by Curtis (2004); causes for the declines are unknown. In other locations where netting has occurred, populations have been eradicated or size distributions have been truncated (Adams pers. comm. 2011). Unit stock and stock sizes remain virtually unknown, and fishery impacts on the region are largely unknown and remain areas for future evaluation. A recent population census in the Florida Keys indicates that the population remained relatively constant from 2003–2005 (Ault et al. 2008). Connectivity and larval transport among subpopulations are not well understood, but genetic research indicates sufficient gene flow to support a single stock.

Although it is recognized that this species is distributed throughout the Bahamas Archipelago, no formal studies have been conducted to determine their distribution and relative abundance across spatial or temporal scales (Danylchuk et al. 2008). It is common along the north coast of Venezuela (southern Caribbean Sea) (Posada et al. 2008). It is also common throughout Central America were appropriate habitats are available.

Bonefish are closely associated with mangroves and seagrasses and other shallow coastal habitats. Given the dramatic declines in these habitats (Mumby et al. 2004, Valiela et al. 2001, Polidoro et al. 2010, Orth et al. 2006, Short et al. 2011), we infer that comparable regional declines are likely throughout its range. Globally, the highest proportion of threatened mangrove species is found along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Central America. Valiela et al. (2001) estimates that mangroves have decreased worldwide by 35%, at a rate of 2% per year. Four of the 10 (40%) mangrove species present along the Pacific coasts of Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia are listed in one of the three threatened categories, and a fifth species, Rhizophora samoensis, is listed as Near Threatened (Polidoro et al. 2010). Seagrasses and coral reefs, in particular, have also experienced significant declines.  Since bonefish rely upon habitats of limited extent, they are especially susceptible to habitat loss and degradation, particularly due to climatic and anthropogenic influences. These habitats are often fragmented in nature, exacerbating this issue. As with other coastal species, fragmentation will likely have direct and indirect negative impacts on bonefish. This species exhibits high site fidelity, and is therefore especially vulnerable to habitat fragmentation.  Therefore, we suspect a habitat loss of at least 20% in the last 35 years (three generation lengths), and infer similar declines in the population of A. vulpes





Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Bonefish in the Bahamian Archipelago generally inhabit shallow, nearshore waters (Kaufman 2000). Studies on localized movements of bonefish suggest that adults utilize a range of nearshore habitats, including seagrass beds, mangroves, and even coral reefs (Colton and Alevizon, 1983, Cooke and Philipp 2004, Danylchuk et al. 2007). They are also found on sand flats, mud flats, marl flats, algae beds, and other shallow water habitats. They are both subtidal and intertidal. Articles in popular angling publications indicate that bonefish are also observed and often caught on sandy flats devoid of benthic vegetation (Layman and Silliman 2002, Layman et al. 2004, Nero and Sullivan-Sealey 2005). In the Florida Keys and Belize, 96% of juveniles caught along sandy beaches were Albula sp. B and 4% were A. vulpes (Adams et al. 2008). Similarly, collections by Snodgrass et al. (2010) in the Florida Keys and Bahamas were dominated by Albula sp. B. The predominant A. vulpes juvenile habitats remain unknown (Adams et al. 2008). One hundred percent of juveniles and sub-adults captured along beaches north of Miami in the US have been identified as Albula sp. B.

Diet
Several diet studies have been conducted on bonefish in the western Atlantic (e.g., Warmke and Erdman 1963, Crabtree et al. 1998), suggesting that bonefish feed predominately on benthic invertebrates (bivalves and crabs) but occasionally on small fishes. However, given the taxonomic confusion surrounding this genus, these studies may have included multiple species of bonefish. There are size and location differences in diet (Adams pers. comm. 2011). In the Bahamas, specimens less than 16 inches primarily feed on polychaete worms and bivalves; individuals over 16 inches primarily feed on crustaceans (shrimps, crabs) and fishes. To some extent, diet reflects habitat.

Reproduction
Albula vulpes
exhibits seasonal reproductive activity throughout its Caribbean range (from October through April) with most activity occurring in fall-winter and early spring months (Ault et al. 2008). Spawning is presumed to occur in deep water off the coral reef shelf edge, away from principal foraging grounds (Crabtree et al. 1997). Danylchuk et al. (2011) used sonic tracking to demonstrate offshore migrations for spawning. They spawn primarily during the full moon phase but possibly at the new moon phase as well (Adams pers. comm. 2011). They gather in pre-spawning aggregations in protected areas near deeper water. Spawning occurs at night. Recent aging of large bonefish has revealed that A. vulpes live to at least 20 years (Ault et al. 2008). There is evidence that suggests that 20 years may be a conservative estimate of longevity.

Growth and Development
Growth rates in the Florida Keys differ from those in the Caribbean by 2–3 times (growth rates are faster in the Keys). Age at maturity is 3.5 years (Crabtree et al. 1997). 50% maturity for male occurs at 418 mm, and at an age of 3.6 years. Females mature (50%) at 4.2 years and 488 mm (Florida Keys, Crabtree et al. 1997). The smallest sexually mature bonefish observed was 358 mm. In the Cayman Islands, a ripe female was found measuring 342 mm (Adams et al. 2008). Growth is rapid until six years, when the growth rate slows (Crabtree et al. 1996). There are sexually dimorphic patterns of growth. The largest size recorded for this species is 702 mm TL (Crabtreet et al.1996). 

Genetic sampling shows that 98% of the recreational fishery throughout the Caribbean is A. vulpes. There are two genetically identifiable co-occurring populations in the Caribbean and both populations are pan-Caribbean (Wallace unpublished data).

Tagging studies in the Florida Keys (Larkin unpublished data) and in the Caribbean (Adams pers comm. 2011) indicate that greater than 70% of recaptures are within five miles of tagging reefs. However, dart tagging and sonic tracking have revealed movements over 140 miles (Haley 2009). Long distance movements on Andros, Bahamas appear to be associated with spawning migrations. There were two bonefish tagged in the upper Florida Keys that were recaptured in Andros, Bahamas.

This species has leptocephali larvae. Mean larval duration is 41–71 days (Mojica et al. 1995). They recruit in summer and winter, indicating prolonged spawning. Recruitment occurs at night, with recruits present in the upper meter of the water column (Mojica et al. 1995). Victor (pers. comm. 2011) found that the leptocephali larvae were positively photo-taxic.

Using equation number five of section 4.4 of the Guidelines for Using the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria (IUCN Standards and Petitions Working Group 2008), if generation length = age of first reproduction + z*(length of the reproductive period), and age at first reproduction is estimated at 3.5 years, z is estimated to be 0.5 based on survivorship and relative fecundity with age, and the length of the reproductive period is estimated at 16.5 years (20 years - 3.5 years = 16.5 years), then generation length for this species is estimated to be 11.75 years.
Systems: Marine

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: This species is targeted by recreational fishermen throughout the Caribbean, including Cuba (Valdez et al. 2008) Belize (Pritchett 2008), Venezuela (Posada et al. 2008), and The Bahamian Archipelago (Danylchuk et al. 2008). An economically important recreational fishery is also present in the state of Florida, USA, where the overall economic impact of recreational fisheries greatly surpasses the current commercial fishery revenues (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 2005). Ault et al. (2008) estimated the value of a bonefish in the Florida Keys at $75,000 per individual over the lifetime of the fish; however, this estimate may differ from that of a new study on the economic value of the flats fishery in the Florida Keys (bonefish, tarpon, permit) (Adams pers. comm. 2011).

In the Bahamas, the total economic value of the recreational bonefish fishery is greater than $140 million annually (Fedler 2010). In Belize, the flats fishery (bonefish, tarpon and permit) exceeded $25 million annually (Fedler 2008). There is no evidence of international trade;  all consumption and sale appears to be local (Adams pers. comm. 2011).

For generations, bonefish have been the focus of subsistence and artisanal fisheries throughout the Caribbean (Adams pers. comm. 2011). Subsistence and small-scale commercial harvesting in this area was traditionally conducted in relatively shallow waters using handline, seine nets and gill nets (Olsen 1986). Use of bonefish as a subsistence food item has declined in recent decades (Rudd 2003), and commercial gill nets have been employed in some areas of the Turks and Caicos, resulting in excessive harvests of bonefish and substantial bycatch of other species, including turtles, barracudas, dolphins and sharks (Clark and Danylchuk 2003). Gill nets are also utilized in the Bahamas, Belize, and Cuba (Adams pers. comm. 2011). Gill nets were responsible for eradicating the bonefish population in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. Bonefish  have gained importance as a target species for specialized recreational anglers in many locations in the Caribbean (sensu Danylchuk et al. 2008). The use of gill nets to target bonefish and other near-shore species is becoming more common in the Bahamas and Belize (Adams pers. comm. 2011). Angling for bonefish has become extremely popular, as their powerful swimming abilities when hooked make them a challenge to catch using lightweight fly-fishing and conventional hook and line gears (Kaufman 2000, Davidson 2004, Fernandez 2004).

Artisinal fishers in Venezuela historically targeted A. vulpes, although the use of seine nets was banned in the 1980s. Since then, bonefish are only caught occasionally by artisinal fishers using small pocket nets (Posada et al. 2008).

In various regions (Bahamas, Belize, wider Caribbean Sea), bonefish are often used as bait for catching large pelagic or reef fishes (marlin, grouper, etc.) (Ault et al. 2008).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): This species is targeted by recreational fishermen in Florida (US) and throughout the Caribbean, including Cuba (Valdez et al. 2008) Belize (Pritchett 2008), Venezuela (Posada et al. 2008), and The Bahamian Archipelago (Danylchuk et al. 2008).

Although the use of bonefish as a subsistence food item has declined in recent decades in The Bahamas (Rudd 2003), commercial gill nets have been employed in some areas, resulting in excessive harvests of bonefish and substantial bycatch of other species, including turtles, barracudas, dolphins and sharks (Clark and Danylchuk 2003).

Effects of catch-and-release fishing on bonefish have been intensively studied (Danylchuk et al. (2007, 2008), Cooke and Philipp (2004) and Suski et al. (unpublished data). Handling time and handling behaviour by anglers, and the presence/absence of predators significantly effect post-release survival. Hook type and hook retention does not affect post-release survival. For bonefish held in live wells, flow-through ambient water is best for post-release survival.   Post-release survival may be negatively correlated with high temperatures.

Habitat loss and degradation are the most significant threats to this species. Unrestrained growth of human populations in the coastal zones has also accelerated habitat destruction, water quality degradation, and disruption of prey species dynamics. Disruptions to shallow coastal ecosystems due to climate change may pose significant future threats to this species, particularly in areas with accelerated rates of coastal development and urbanization.  Increasing water temperatures may also exceed the thermal maximum of bonefishes (36.4–40.6°C) (Murchie et al. 2011).

Bonefish are closely associated with mangroves and seagrasses and other shallow coastal habitats. Given the dramatic declines in these habitats (Mumby et al. 2004, Valiela et al. 2001, Polidoro et al. 2010, Orth et al. 2006, Short et al. 2011), we infer that comparable regional declines are likely throughout its range. Globally, between 20% and 35% of mangrove area have been lost since approximately 1980, and mangrove areas are disappearing at the rate of approximately 1% per year (Valiela et al. 2001, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2007).  The highest proportion of threatened mangrove species is found along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Central America. Valiela et al. (2001) estimates that mangroves have decreased worldwide by 35%, at a rate of 2% per year. Four of the 10 (40%) mangrove species present along the Pacific coasts of Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia are listed in one of the three threatened categories, and a fifth species, Rhizophora samoensis, is listed as Near Threatened (Polidoro et al. 2010). Since bonefish rely upon habitats of limited extent, they are especially susceptible to habitat loss and degradation, particularly due to climatic and anthropogenic influences. These habitats are often fragmented in nature, exacerbating this issue. As with other coastal species, fragmentation will likely have direct and indirect negative impacts on bonefish.  Therefore, we suspect a habitat loss of at least 20% in the last 35 years (three generation lengths), and infer similar declines in the population of A. vulpes.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Despite their ecological and economic importance, fishery regulations for bonefish across the Bahamian Archipelago are limited (Danylchuk et al. 2008). In the Bahamas, the capture of bonefish using nets and the commercial trade of bonefish are prohibited (Bahamas Department of Fisheries 1986). In the Turks and Caicos Islands,  there are no specific regulations (Turks and Caicos Islands Government 1998). In an effort to conserve fish stocks and their habitats, both countries are using marine protected areas in conjunction with existing fisheries regulations to build sustainable fisheries and protect marine biodiversity.  Catch-and-release is commonly practised by recreational anglers with a strong conservation ethic who travel to the region. Research is needed to identify whether unique bonefish stocks occur in the Bahamian Archipelago, since stock mixing could significantly complicate management of the species (Danylchuk et al. 2008). In Belize and Puerto Rico, bonefish are catch-and release-only. In Florida, this species became catch-and-release only in 2011 (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission). Enforcement is lacking throughout this species' range.

Rising exploitation pressures, rapid human development within this species' range, and environmental changes in coastal waters suggest that new information on population dynamics and resource ecology is critically needed to support fishery management strategies to conserve this species (Ault et al. 2008).

This species is found in numerous Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) throughout its range. In Cuba, bonefish habitats and populations are protected by expansive MPAs on the south coast that are used as recreational fishing catch-and-release zones (Adams pers. comm. 2011).

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Citation: Adams, A., Guindon, K., Horodysky, A., MacDonald, T., McBride, R., Shenker, J. & Ward, R. 2012. Albula vulpes. In: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 19 September 2014.
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