It took Japanese scientists over 50 years to successfully breed eels in captivity and help preserve the species. Experts from the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), in collaboration with the nonprofit albula conservation organization Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (BTT), were the first in the world to successfully breed albula in captivity – in just four years. Drawing on the experience of scientific colleagues from Japan, the FAU researchers figured out its life cycle in captivity in order to preserve an endangered species. By the way, it is important not only in the sport fishing industry. In some regions, fishing is the only source of income and food for local residents. The fact is that albula is often used as bait.
Albula – or bonefish – is an ancient group of fish, the description of which is found in the annals as early as 138 million years ago. However, the scientific community still has gaps in knowledge about the biology of this species. But this species is under threat because of its demand in industrial, sports and recreational fishing. Understanding of the albula life cycle remains poor, although this knowledge is essential for developing conservation policies, addressing threats to fishing, and restoring populations.
In previous years of the project, research on albula reproduction by the FAU Harbor Branch has allowed scientists to successfully stimulate fish spawning in special aquariums. They were able to obtain eggs capable of hatching. The larvae that appeared lived up to eight days. This was the first time anyone in the world had recorded the development of a bone fish embryo, hatching of an egg and the appearance of larvae.
A new scientific breakthrough in this project occurred when laboratory adults of albula were fully prepared for the production of eggs and then hatched for spawning in a controlled environment. In addition, the researchers were able to shorten the natural spawning cycle from 12 months to four months. This allowed scientists to advance faster in research on the developmental biology of larvae and juveniles. Research has now ceased to depend on the expectation of spawning once a year.
“Before this study, we did not know what environmental conditions albula needed for spawning. What kind of light, temperature, and salinity levels in the water favor the development of eggs and larvae? How long does it take for eggs and larvae to develop? What the larvae look like as they develop and what they eat, ”explained Dr. Paul Wills, Research Professor of Aquaculture and Growth Program at FAU Harbor Branch.
As a result of a lengthy experiment, scientists were able to obtain a complete hormonal profile and a roadmap for preparing albula for spawning. The new data is providing a better understanding of the reproductive process under controlled conditions, including what healthy eggs should look like and the levels of essential compounds (lipids, fatty acids) they should contain.
Habitat loss and degradation, coastal development and urbanization, deteriorating water quality and uncontrolled fishing have significantly reduced populations of this important species.
“Albula populations have been declining in recent years, and it is estimated that some areas, including the Florida Keys, have declined 90%,” explains James Sullivan, Ph.D., executive director of FAU Harbor Branch. “Our scientists are close to fully understanding the albula life cycle. This will allow a targeted approach to conservation and restoration of the species to be applied, which is necessary to ensure future fisheries”.