The results of BTT’s multi-year Bonefish Genetics Study provide scientific evidence that the bonefish population across the Caribbean is closely connected. The study, which launched in 2014, involved the collection of genetic samples from bonefish (Albula vulpes) in multiple locations spanning the region. With the assistance of anglers, guides, and partners, BTT surpassed its initial target of collecting 5,000 samples, ultimately receiving 13,359 from a diversity of locations, including South Florida and the Keys, the Bahamas, Mexico, Belize, Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Cayman Islands, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere. The majority of samples were from Florida, Bahamas, Cuba, Mexico, and Belize. Given that the study’s primary inquiry concerned connections to Florida, the most intensive analyses addressed Belize, Mexico, Florida, Cuba, and the Bahamas.
The samples underwent a thorough analysis by BTT’s collaborating scientists at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC). Of the 13,359 total samples, 11,222 were used for analysis. 1,588 fish were identified as other species (remember that Albula vulpes supports the fishery), and 549 samples were too degraded for analysis and were discarded.
The analytical approach included several levels:
- One level of analysis examined a couple of locations (alleles) on bonefish genes for all samples (adults, juveniles, and larvae) to determine how well bonefish throughout the region shared these alleles;
- Another level of analysis compared specific sites on the DNA among individuals to determine their level of relatedness;
- Another level of analysis examined genetic information between adults and larvae/juveniles to determine if parent-offspring relationships could be determined;
- Another level of analysis looked for sibling relationships.