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Permit Tagging Program in Florida Keys


Despite the economic value of the recreational permit fishery in Florida and the wider Caribbean, there has never been a stock assessment, and even basic data are lacking, such as fishing effort, harvest, habitat use, migration patterns, age structure, growth rates.

In 2019, the AFFTA Fisheries Fund gave a grant to the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust (BTT) in support of research to track the movements of migrating permit to determine the effectiveness and potential connection of the Special Permit Zone to the Florida Keys fishery.

PROJECT OBJECTIVES.  Taking a proactive collaborative approach to obtain data while the permit fishery appears to be in relatively good health, BTT worked with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to improve regulations for permit while working to determine the spatial dynamics of the fish and fishery. This is being done in two ways: via a five-year tagging program in which guides and anglers are tagging permit with dart tags and a three-year acoustic tagging program in the Lower Florida Keys. The pings from the transmitters are detected by an array of 60 receivers placed in the Lower Keys. When a permit swims in range of a receiver, it is detected and recorded. If any of the permit are detected by BTT colleagues’ receivers in the Keys and along the coasts of Florida, they will be reported to BTT.

FINDINGS. BTT has dart tagged over 1,000 fish to date, and had 30 recaptures, showing that many permit have a small home-range, but some travel longer distances (up to 120 miles one way). BTT’s acoustic tagging project began in September 2015. Small acoustic transmitters, each with a unique subsonic ping, are surgically implanted in permit. The goal is to place transmitters in 30 permit in each year of the study.

NEXT STEPS. Data will be used to estimate movement patterns and define the geographic scale most appropriate for management. Length data from tag and recapture reports will provide the first information on the size structure of the permit fishery. Future work will examine effects of catch and release on permit, improve estimates of fishing effort and harvest, examine factors associated with spawning, develop a better understanding of permit age and growth, and determine the economic value of the fishery.

INDUSTRY MEMBERS actively supporting the work of BTT include Costa, Patagonia, Bass Pro Shops, Hell’s Bay Boatworks, and others. In addition to its permit work, BTT is also actively working on bonefish and tarpon projects and focusing on improving the habitats on which the depend. Learn more about the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, their projects, and lend your support.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Jacob Brownscombe

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