Fishermen tend to be fairly secretive when it comes to their prized fishing spots. However, roughly 40 Florida Keys backcountry fishing guides have come forward with information about their favorite fishing holes and participated in a study they hope will be good for the Keys' most prized backcountry fish -- tarpon, bonefish and permit.
Bonefish Tarpon Trust, a fishing conservation group, has asked for help from the guides to map the habitat of the three species of fish. The group has asked the guides to mark on charts what areas they fish for the three species.
Brooke Denkert, a researcher for the trust, requested only general information on where the guides fish for permit, bonefish and tarpon. She did not ask what season or tides the guides are fishing on or any other information that would give away too many details about an individual fisherman's prized spots, Denkert said.
"We just wanted spatial data," Denkert said.
The goal is to create habitat maps, which could later be used to implement protections for the catch-and-release species of fish.
Early on, Lower Keys guide Capt. John O'Hearn was skeptical about participating, as he was concerned about giving out too much information about his "hot spots." However, his fears were alleviated and he recognized the overall benefit of mapping the habitat, he said.
"I could show these maps to anyone I am having a drink with and would not have to worry too much about it," O'Hearn said. "There is not a lot of research on these types of catch-and-release fish and there needs to be."
This is the first scientific study of the habitat of the three species of game fish, which bring in fishermen from around the world and generate millions of dollars a year for the Keys, fishermen say.
"This will set up a base line of understanding that could result in more adaptive management policies and practices," said Lower Keys guide Capt. Will Benson, who participated in the study.
Bonefish Tarpon Trust had been discussing the study for years and decided to start it this year, as the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have started on a review of their rules. The review could result in new fishing regulations in Keys refuges and in sanctuary waters.
Denkert hopes to have the habitat maps completed by the end of spring, she said.