Florida University to Explore Hogfish Aquaculture

7 December 2016, at 12:00am

US - Hogfish, a popular and delicious species targeted by commercial and recreational spear fishermen, is currently being overfished in Florida state and federal waters, but a new hogfish aquaculture project at the University of Miami may help reduce the pressure on wild stocks if successful.

With new regulations coming into effect in early 2017, there could be a decrease in availability and therefore an increase in price of this popular dish.

New regulations that have been approved included: lowering daily bag limit for Atlantic recreational from five fish to one fish per individual, increasing minimum catch size (12 to 16 inches fork length for Atlantic recreational and commercial and 12 to 14 inches fork length for Gulf recreational and commercial), and limiting the recreational harvesting season to May 1 through October 31 (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission).

These regulations are aimed to allow the hogfish population to recover so they can continue to be harvested in the future.

Hogfish are protogynous reef fish that reproduce in a system where a dominant male controls a harem of females (Collin and McBride, 2015).

This means all hogfish begin their lives as females and as they mature they turn into males. Males are generally larger and the favored target of fishermen. Their removal results in reproductive disruption of harems.

It can take up to several months before a new male replaces the old one or a female in the harem changes into a male (Collin and McBride, 2015).

In areas of high fishing pressure, the reproductive potential of hogfish can be severely reduced, as any fish that develops into a male will be removed from the system. New guidelines, in theory, should give enough room for male fish to reproduce before they are captured by fishermen. But, what if there is another way to get hogfish?

The University of Miami Experimental Hatchery has initiated a hogfish aquaculture programme with the aim to spawn the fish in captivity. To date, very little information is available about captive breeding of hogfish and to successfully spawn the fish in captivity would be a huge step for both conversation purposes and for aquaculture production of the species.

Currently, there are six hogfish at the University of Miami Experimental Hatchery and the team is hoping to spawn them as soon as they have been acclimated to the system.