Invasive Lionfish: Same Thinking Yields Same Results

By Cristina Zenato

ARose lionfish

The same old thinking, the same old results.

For the last several years all I have heard about is the damage that lionfish are causing to the reef systems of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean since their appearance. Lionfish come from the Pacific and the Red Sea. The most predominant species is the red lionfish.

There are different theories about the appearance of lionfish in these waters such as a hurricane destroying areas containing some, aquariums releasing them by mistake, ships coming from the Pacific emptying their ballast tanks, or simply people throwing them into the ocean because their appetites are too voracious for personal aquariums.

The fact is: lionfish are here to stay. Marine biologists are concerned that this rapidly reproducing fish is posing a threat to the already very unbalanced ecosystems. To its advantage, the lionfish breeds year round and it seems to lack the natural predators of the Pacific, either because they have all been taken by humans or because none of the creatures here recognize them as food. They are also binge feeding fish; they post themselves over a large colony of juveniles and keep eating until their stomachs no longer allow it.

Local people and dive stores receive special permission from the Bahamian government to spear lionfish to reduce their impact on the environment. I am one of those divers going out to kill them. Sometimes, when I do not have to contest with the sharks to whom the lionfish belongs, I can bring them back to the surface. They are very good eating. In one session of 45 minutes, over a stretch of about 400ft I can kill as many as 40. Their size is also a concern, as they grow twice as big as lionfish in their native habitat of the Pacific. I have killed lionfish that are over 18 inches long.

However, I cannot stop wondering if once again, touching something we have already damaged is the right answer. Doubts in my mind make me wonder if the lionfish, with time, could take the place of the middle range predators of the reef we have so successfully removed. Could lionfish be the future grouper of the reef? If given enough time, would nature be able to restablish the balance? The problem is that nature does not have time, nor the strength to do it, unless we do something more drastic then just sit there and let this problem resolve independently.

CZenato lionfish

The oceans need our support. The last 50 years of mechanized fisheries have put a dent in the capability of the ocean to recover. We need to provide assistance in one way or another. One plausible solution could be to adjust the fisheries laws, even if just locally, by creating longer no fishing seasons for key species. Nature has proved that it can bounce back. During World War II the north Atlantic was untouched by fishing vessels, afraid to be the target of war submarines. Five years allowed that section of the ocean to recover dramtically.

We need to start embracing the concept that not everything is there for grabs at all times. We would be much better off accepting that maybe some fish should not be available for 6 months out of the year. This should not make the fish a delicacy highly hunted and poached for, but should instead make us consider using a different resource.

Seasonal and diversified fishing could be a much better solution than the unrelenting harvest of the same species on a regular basis. What we need to do for this change to happen is to accept it and even demand it as consumers. Changes like this do require legislation and intervention on higher levels but, primarily they require the demand to change. Peoples’ attitudes towards consumption must change and we have to accept that not all food is always readily available to serve our wants and needs.

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Ocean Geographic Explorer (OGX) is a diving adventure resource with a special focus on marine photography and ocean conservation. Our content is divided up into six primary categories: Travel, Sea Science,  Equipment, Photography &Video, Conservation, and Lifestyle. We endeavor be a portal for people with all levels of interest in the marine environment  to learn about and become part of a community of like-minded ocean lovers who enjoy sharing their knowledge of and experiences in our fascinating ocean world.

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