June 2013: FWC Commissioners approved measures to make bonefish a catch-and-release only fishery. This includes the elimination of a tournament exemption permit. This exemption allowed tournament anglers with the proper permit to temporarily possess bonefish for transport to a tournament scale. This change went into effect Sept. 1, 2013. The use of a multiple hook in conjunction with live or dead natural bait to harvest or attempt to harvest bonefish was also prohibited Sept. 1, 2013.
Bonefish are one of Florida's premier gamefish and are known as "grey ghosts of the flats" because they are stealthy, fast-swimming fish that are exciting and challenging to catch. South Florida is one of the few places in the United States where anglers have the unique opportunity to fish for bonefish and the shallow saltwater flats of the Florida Keys and Biscayne Bay are considered a world-class destination for catching large, trophy-sized bonefish.
Bonefish mature at three to four years of age (17-18 inches total length), may live longer than 23 years, and grow to be three feet long and 15 pounds. Bonefish can be caught year-round in the Keys, but peak bonefish season is generally March through October. Not much is known about the biology of bonefish, but spawning occurs from November through May, probably in deep water or offshore.
There are multiple similar-looking species of bonefish that inhabit Florida waters, but the common bonefish (Albula vulpes) dominates Florida's recreational fishery. Little is known about the other bonefish species, but many juvenile bonefish caught in Florida have been identified as bigeye bonefish (Albula garcia). Bigeye bonefish appear to live in Florida waters as juveniles and leave sometime before adulthood.
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. That's nearly $75,000 over the lifespan of the fish! Most bonefish anglers recognize the value of bonefish as a gamefish in Florida and practice catch and release with the bonefish they catch. Visit the links below to learn about catch and release and proper fish handling practices you can use on your next fishing trip to help conserve bonefish.
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