Many indigenous populations require the fisheries resources commonly found in their region to sustain their way of life or produce income in order to survive in an increasingly commercial world. As lionfish predation continues to create unprecedented pressures on these local fisheries, traditional fishing and unique cultures inexorably tied to the sea are also threatened to near extinction. Recreationally important species of marine life are those creatures commonly associated with sport, recreation or for consumption by participants and not for sale.
Lionfish regularly raid the nurseries where juvenile game fish usually find security while growing up and they are eating them in unsustainable amounts. We also know that lionfish eat seahorses, juvenile octopus and lobsters. The impacts reach much further than just the divers and fishermen, however. Businesses like hotels, dive centers, fishing charters, restaurants and all of their employees in areas like these rely upon a steady flow of tourists in search of the best recreational and sport experiences available.
If the reef dies and the pretty fish die, scuba divers will choose a different destination. If the sportfish stocks dry up, then sportfishermen stop coming, too. Paychecks dry up, jobs are lost and the economies collapse of those areas unable to make the shift to other industries or sources of revenue. They have been spotted in water as little as 1 foot. They are equally at home in brackish water river estuaries and mangroves, where most of the juvenile fish grow up. Being able to tolerate water temperatures down to 50 degrees Fahrenheit 10 degrees Celsius they have established a current range from Rhode Island, United States as far south as Brazil.
They are highly tolerant to temperature change and biologically resistant to most diseases and parasites that affect native fish. Lionfish can live in excess of 15 years and have no natural predators in the Western Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico that are capable of controlling the burgeoning lionfish population. We are only just beginning to understand the consequences of the lionfish invasion at this point, even the scientists that have been studying the non-native lionfish for two decades are having a really tough time even articulating what the landscape of our local oceans and seas are going to look like ten short years from now.
The population explosion has taken most of them completely by surprise and they readily admit that the problem is far worse than could be imagined even six or seven years ago. Invasive lionfish are disastrously out-breeding, out-living, out-eating and out-competing every other native fish in the Western Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. If left unchecked lionfish will ultimately cause the destruction of the reefs, native fish stocks and the livelihoods of everyone that depend upon them.
Nice article but! They are quite tasty and it would be nice to promote this throughout the Caribbean. Keep up the good work, Rob. Thanks for the information. My wife and I vacation in Eleuthera in the winter, and every time I snorkel I bring a short spear and bag a couple of the prickly beasts. This trip was the first time that I ate one, and it was delicious! The captain aboard the ship that my wife and I stayed on for the week liberty clipper, excellent trip brought us to popular lion fish hangouts daily. I think the key to eradication, or at least population control is to market them as the delicious and mysterious fish that they are, of which it sounds like is happening, slowly but surely.
The locals are afraid of the fish. Very comprehensive and well written article. I live in Belize and South Florida and agree that local awareness of the problem is very slow. Are there any articles by economists on the impact of lionfish on local and global economies. You have pointed out very clearly the need for fiscal action…now. Thank you. I understand why they are a problem and I like that you say in there own native sea they are not. This was around He she?
It was a scary looking fish to me! I wonder why no one started to do something then? It was the first one the expert had ever seen out of the Pacific? This is over 50 years AGO! Great information, just watched the tv show SHARK and 2 guys were asking for money to help stop these fish, I had no idea how bad it was,Lionfish spearing might be a good thing to invest in.. Thanks Scott. Was in Belieze at the Turneffe Attol first time hunting lion fish on the last day of our trip managed to kill 8 in one dive and had a total of 15 speared and fed to grouper,eels and any other fish who wanted a bite.
I have seen a lionfish while snorkeling in Mexico! They are pretty creepy looking, but we were still intrested in it anyway. Thanks for the information- it was really helpful. I am doing a presentaion on invasive species and I thought the lionfish was a great choice. Such a shame, though, how it got into the Atlantic. Thanks again! Just as is its over populated now, how much hunting will need to be don before lion fish are down to a population that is suitable for the ocean?
Why not relocate some of th4e fish to another area where food is needed. Fish is fish.
My husband and I visited the Caribbean for the first time St. Maarten in October. We were very close to the beach, along the rocks in inly waiste deep water and saw one. Shortly after a scuba instructor came in the water with his spear and tracked it down and got it out. Am I panicking?
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