You may have heard about the spread of lionfish throughout the western Atlantic Ocean over the last ten years. They’ve also gotten into the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, and more recently they’ve entered the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal. While these spiny, striped fishes are interesting to look at, they are highly predatory and have disastrous effects on the ecosystems they invade.
Luckily, a team of scientists from the University of Florida has identified proven effective methods for dealing with lionfish invasion and saving key ecosystems.
Hunting and eating
This is one of the rare instances where you’ll hear scientists advising people to hunt a species.
Spearfishing while scuba diving or using a pole spear has been a popular and, as it turns out, very effective method for limiting the spread of lionfish. There are events and even tournaments held in Florida where participants see how many lionfish they can catch in a day. Then, there’s often a big barbeque.
Lionfish are pretty tasty and, evidently, in plentiful supply. Scientists have even advocated for the commercialization of lionfish and opening them up to consumer markets which could have drastically beneficial effects on the areas they invade.
“One of the big take-aways of this study is the importance of participatory management, which is when stakeholders and wildlife managers work collaboratively to implement effective strategies for the lionfish problem,” says Holden Harris, one of the study’s lead authors and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Florida. “Restaurants and retailers have begun marketing lionfish to consumers. Lionfish are really tasty and appeal to the environmentally-conscious consumer. A commercial lionfish market can also help diversify fishers’ catch portfolio.”
Ironically, protected areas like coral reefs are where lionfish prefer to congregate. This is a barrier faced by scientists looking to curb the lionfish spread. The team advocates international cooperation, too, because the lionfish issue is now a cross-continental, cross-oceanic issue that multiple countries and conservation groups must face together.
Things not to do
The team has found that bounty programs that reward catchers aren’t effective because they exhaust the resources of conservation groups. They advise sticking to leading community efforts like tournaments which encourage participants to use their own equipment at their own costs.
There were at one point some attempts to feed lionfish to predators like sharks and eels, training these bigger sea creatures to hunt lionfish. This, however, is discouraged by the team from the University of Florida as this winds up training these other predators to associate divers with food.
If you’re interested in taking up hunting lionfish and helping ocean ecosystems, check this out.
Source Study: Frontiers in Marine Science — Frontiers | Lessons From the Western Atlantic Lionfish Invasion to Inform Management in the Mediterranean | Marine Science (frontiersin.org)