September 17, 2014
What is all this fuss about Lionfish?
Most people know by now that Lionfish (Pterois Volitans) are an invasive species in the Caribbean! They are a beautiful fish and do not cause a problem in their native environment where they have natural predators. They are native to the Indo-pacific oceans and the Red sea.
Introducing the Lionfish to the Atlantic and Caribbean has turned out to be one of the cruelest and potentially catastrophic tricks ever played on an ecosystem!
Invasive lionfish are out-breeding, out-competing and out-living native fish stocks and other marine species. The consequences impact the food security and economies affecting over a hundred million people.
Experts speculate that the Lionfish got into the SE coast of the USA, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean from people dumping their unwanted Lionfish from home aquariums into the Atlantic Ocean for up to 25 years.
Their average lifespan is 15 years. Female Lionfish reach sexual maturity and will release eggs when they reach 7 to 8 inches in length, or approximately one year old.
A female Lionfish can release between 10,000 and 30,000 unfertilized eggs every 4 days year around, approximately 2 million eggs per year! The egg sac contains a chemical deterrent that discourages other fish from eating the eggs.
A single Lionfish may reduce the number of juvenile native fish by approximately 79% in just 5 weeks!
Data collected is showing that Lionfish will eat anything that they can fit into their mouths. Their stomach can expand up to 30 times the normal volume and a Lionfish will fill it up to capacity as soon as it is able!Scientists have catalogued over 70 different species that lionfish will eat through stomach content analysis. In addition to the fish they eat, they also eat invertebrates and molluscs – shrimp, crabs, juvenile octopus, squid, juvenile lobster, etc.
Coral and algae fight for photosynthesis to survive. The grazer fish, such as Parrotfish, will feed on the algae. This helps keep coral reefs alive. Now we have Lionfish feeding on juvenile Parrotfish, fish stocks are reduced AND the health of the coral reefs are in jeopardy!
Studies have shown that a Lionfish can go without food for 3 months or longer and only lose 10% of their body mass.
Lionfish have 18 venomous spines that can easily penetrate human skin and give a very painful sting. Tough Fishermen have been seen crying from the pain! Recommended first aid for a Lionfish sting is to remove any broken spines, disinfect the wound and apply non-scalding hot water for 30-90 minutes. Monitor for signs of allergic reaction. Give the patient anti-histamine and a strong painkiller! There are no known cases of human fatality from a Lionfish sting.
Lionfish is venomous not poisonous! The meat is extremely tasty and restaurants are now featuring delicious Lionfish recipes on their menus.
Here in Southern Belize, Reef Conservation International Ltd (ReefCI) found the first Lionfish in November 2009.
Fast-forward to 2014, ReefCI are removing Lionfish using a spear and a Safespear© bag. This method is extremely effective. One diver, one bag, one spear and as many as 50-100 Lionfish are now being removed in the Sapodilla cayes!
Look out for Lionfish earrings. In Southern Belize, ReefCI staff are carefully removing the fins and spines and drying them out in the sun. Local woman are empowered and employed to make beautiful earrings out of them.
Are we making a difference? There are some dive sites where it seems that it is working and the numbers are down. However, in general, because we are located on a barrier reef, it seems like a losing battle! It’s a bit like picking up garbage from the shore, one can pick it up everyday and it is always the same amount! But, it has to be done.
Here is the bottom line!
If left unchecked lionfish will ultimately cause the destruction of the reefs, native fish stocks and the livelihoods of everyone that depend upon them.
How can you help?
Order Lionfish from restaurants buy Lionfish products such as the earrings and if you are a Scuba diver, make your next trip a Lionfish culling trip.
Founder & Director and Lionfish Hunter!