On the rather long list of stuff I didn’t know about you can add the growing body of knowledge regarding bonefish catch and release mortality.
It turns out that, depending on what is lurking nearby and how long it took to take that picture, mortality of bonefish in the R part of the C&R equation can be up to 40%. FORTY PERCENT! Holy $h1t!
(UPDATE: the study referenced here the mortality rate for bonefish that had lost equilibrium was about 30%, another study pointed toward 40%)
Forty percent… as a trout C&R angler, I’m used to thinking of that number more like 3-5%. 40% just seems totally unacceptable and I hope if you are reading this, you’d find it unacceptable as well.
How this came about… scientists, anglers, the Bahamas, bonefish… an intriguing mix that yielded some really interesting and important findings.
Whether a bonefish had or had not lost equilibrium was a significant predictor of predation, with bonefish losing equilibrium being over six times more likely to suffer predation than those that did not lose equilibrium (sciency stuff removed here). All other variables measured during the study (total length, angling time, handling time, air exposure time, bleeding, and water temperature) were not directly related to predation risk.
Fish that were preyed upon did not spend significantly more time further from mangroves than fish that were not preyed upon. In fact, following release 17 (20%) bonefish were observed swimming into open water (N2.5 m deep) rather than staying in close proximity to the shore line or in shallow water.
Longer air exposure and overall handling times were significant predictors of the loss of equilibrium in angled bonefish. Angling time, total length, water temperature, and bleeding at the hooking site were not significant predictors of equilibrium loss.
So, what does this all mean? It means dropping the Hero Shot is a really, really good idea if you care about that particular fish living. If you can take a pic of that fish in the water, great… but if you do what I did on my last trip and take the fish out of the water (or have the guide take the fish out of the water) for an extensive photo shoot… well… it won’t go well for the fish and it may only have a couple of minutes left to live.
If the fish is unable to right itself when you put it back in the water, that fish is in trouble. It could even be that these stressed fish even leave a trail of chemicals behind them that predators like Lemon Sharks zero in on.
Jason Lozano, one of the anglers involved in the study had this to say…
With 15 seconds of air exposure 80% of the fish we released in one day were killed by lemons or cudas within 2 mins. If the fished avoided contact with the predator longer than 2 mins their chances increased substantially.
Jason pointed out that some flats clearly had more predators than others. If you are fishing a flat with more cudas or sharks and you take that fish out for the glory/hero shot to the point it loses equilibrium when it is released, well, that fish will likely die soon.
So, to review… don’t take the fish out of the water. It’s a bad idea if you want the fish to survive.
UPDATE: In the study referenced above, bonefish that had lost equilibrium had a mortality rate of 30%, while bonefish that did not lose equilibrium had a mortality rate of about 4%.