The highly “venomous and voracious” lionfish eat juvenile fish of other species at an alarming rate, they also take away food sources from edible fish (grouper and snapper), and they also attack reef-cleaning fish such as parrot fish. This fish, native to the Pacific and Indian oceans, is considered to be one of the alien species responsible for huge financial losses in the Caribbean, impacting biodiversity, food security, human health, and economic development. But is there any way to save Caribbean waters from the incursion of lionfish in a humane way? I found some anecdotes about the difficulties in eradicating lionfish in a recent article, “Lionfish Invade Florida Keys,” troubling.
The article explains: “The lionfish reached the Florida Keys a year ago. Its arrival was expected, with scientists calling it the completion of a circle that began a generation earlier when the first lionfish was spotted off the coast of Miami in 1985 and more were reported there in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew. Most believe the original invaders came from aquariums. Since then, the prolific breeder has conquered most of the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Cuba and the Turks and Caicos. Its path has followed that of the Gulf Stream and other currents, which carry their eggs and larvae. During the past year, the lionfish has slowly but surely spread throughout the Keys, as scientists expected and feared, with more than 80 of the intruders documented from Key Largo to the Dry Tortugas.”
The article goes on to explain how commercial lobster fisherman Gary Nichols has pulled 22 lionfish from his deep-water traps this year: “’Those little suckers are hard to kill,’ he said. ‘I put a really pretty one in a coffee cup and little bit of saltwater. Three hours later it was still breathing.’ He said he later popped a hole in the lionfish’s bladder because it had been pulled to the surface from a deep depth. A week later it was still living, so he gave it to Rib Daddy’s Steak and Seafood in Key Largo, where it is on display in an aquarium.”
Another troubling detail is that, although it is known that pet shop/aquarium owners have dumped alien species such as lionfish and batfish into Caribbean waters, there is always someone who will point a finger at a neighboring country. The article quotes marine ecologist James Morris, who says, “It’s good to know where the lionfish are coming from. Let’s say it’s the Yucatan in Mexico. That may give us strong incentives to provide funding for control efforts in the Yucatan, to selfishly help protect our reef systems.” Another option would be to focus on the United States to offer a solution; let’s say, to prohibit sales of exotic alien species for aquariums.
Many places have responded by holding fishing tournaments where the lionfish have “invaded.” According to the article, last year, 1,408 lionfish were collected on 19 boats in six hours at Green Turtle Key in the Bahamas. Earlier this year Cozumel, Mexico, also held a tournament where 259 lionfish were caught. Other tournaments are being announced in several Caribbean countries for this summer, such as the 2010 Bermuda Lion Fish Tournament (August 15, 2010).
For full article, see http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/02/07/1468635/lionfish-invade-the-keys.html
For information about tournaments, see http://cozumeltours.wordpress.com/2010/02/26/lionfish-cozumel-fishing-tournament/ and http://thewestend.bm/2010/02/17/lion-fish-tournament/
Photo of blue lionfish from http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/node/2028/full