Background Image

Where When How Summer 2017 : Page 92

Just a back-of-the-envelope calculation is quite astonishing. For example, in the cen-tral Bahamas, studies have documented li-onfish densities at about 200 per acre, and each lionfish eats from 30 to 40 fish per day. Multiply that by 365 days, and you soon come up with some mind-numbingly large, if not disastrous, numbers of fish being removed each year. What’s even scarier is that in some of the hardest-hit regions, lionfish densities can be as much as 1,000 per acre. Yet another alarming fact is their growth rate and maximum size. Studies have shown a growth rate of up to a half-millimeter per day, or 10 inches a year, and numerous specimens have been caught in excess of a meter in length. This is a faster growth rate and larger size than in their native Indo-Pacific range. Lionfish obviously love their new home. Kill ’em and Grill ’em Every scientist that I’ve spoken to about the lionfish invasion has told me that these critters are, like thousands of other exotic species, probably here to stay. Some have even expressed grave doubt that’s there’s much that we can do about it, and believe that local eradication ef-forts are a waste of time and resources. But recently there has been some reason for hope. Along with studies focusing on what li-onfish eat and how they manage to make their way around the vast Caribbean Basin, some are looking at whether human re-moval of the invaders is working. And so far, the research says it may be having an effect. Experimental reefs in the Bahamas that had high concentrations only last year, have this year shown far lower num-bers after removal efforts. “What that tells us is that our removals took,” says Dr. Mark Hixon, “and lasted a whole year.” According to REEF’s Lad Akins, the key is to intercede early and consistently. “While we may not be able to completely eliminate them,” he says, “with a focused and consis-tent eradication effort, it appears that we may be able to keep their numbers low and reduce their ecological impact.” Research so far indicates that about 27 percent of mature lionfish will have to be removed monthly for one year to reduce its popula-tion growth rate to zero. Clearly, one way of controlling lionfish is to create a commercial market for them. At a recent meeting of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) offi-cials, I had my first opportunity to eat “li-onfish bites,” and indeed they were quite good. In fact, had I not been told what was on the menu I would have guessed hogfish. To this end, NOAA is now spon-soring the “Eat Lionfish” campaign (See “‘Eat Lionfish’ Campaign Among Strate-gies to Combat Invasive Species,” Dive Training, October 2010) and is encourag-FLAMINGO DIVERS ing not only individual fishers to fire up the barbie, but restaurants to put the spiny invaders on their menu. While many have expressed a willingness to try, the problem is supply. There is not yet a fish-ery for lionfish, and many fishers have been understandably reluctant to target a species that’s so difficult to handle. Cur-rent efforts are concentrating on pro-grams where fishers could take preorders from suppliers, ensuring a sale before leaving dock. Another innovative approach has been the lionfish derbies, as mentioned previ-ously. With the rousing success in the Ba-hamas, FKNMS managers have organized three such derbies in the Florida Keys. In each location teams of up to four divers will compete for more than $3,000 in prize money, and winners will be awarded in three categories: most fish, biggest fish and smallest fish. On site for each derby will be re-searchers who will immediately perform dissection and stomach content analysis. In addition, chefs will also be on hand to maintain a continual supply of ceviche and lionfish bites. This is clearly a unique op-portunity for a nexus of competition, sci-ence and culinary delight. As the invasion is now a regional prob-lem, it calls for a regional solution. This has inspired a regional workshop that will be concluded by the time this article ap-pears. Convened by the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), and sponsored by REEF and the governments of Mexico and France, the symposium has several ambi-tious objectives, such as identifying cur-rent control strategies; compiling existing information from throughout the region; developing a draft strategy for control; es-tablishing the basis for generating infor-mation about the species; establishing regional policies to control traffic, import, export and marketing of exotic invasive species; and developing communication strategies. I For More Information “PROVO’S LITTLE DIVE SHOP” PRIVATE CHARTERS -SMALL GROUPS -8 Divers Max. The Mote Marine Laboratory, Tropical Research Station on Summerland Key, is an excellent informa-tion resource on all aspects of lionfish and the status of both research and the inva-sion. Log on to http://isurus.mote.org/Keys/ lionfish.phtml. WEST CAICOS • FRENCH CAY • NORTHWEST POINT • SANDBORE CHANNEL Located on Venetian Road Tel/Fax 649 333-DIVE (3483) Email: dive@flamingodivers.com • Web: www.flamingodivers.com 92 • • • • • SUMMER 2017 “Where When How -Turks & Caicos Islands”

Flamingo Divers

Using a screen reader? Click Here