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Winter 2014
March 10, 2014
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Guy Harvey
March 28, 2014

Oh NO! Not another article about Lionfish

By Fred Garth

If you’re like me, you’re tired of hearing about the lionfish invasion. It’s getting more press than Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal. Even though we’re killing lionfish as fast as we can, they still refuse to go away…just like Christie. The question is, can we eat them up before they eat everything else? Here’s the latest updates on eradicating the spiny beast.

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Lionfish are a popular aquarium pet that are native to the Indo-Pacific. But, as we’ve all heard, they have infested the East Coast of the US, the Bahamas and the Caribbean. And they’re eating the native reef fish with abandon. It’s an issue that has authorities plenty worried. Right now, the best idea they’ve come up with is to hunt them down and eat them. And fortunately, lionfish tastes yummy. I had a fine batch of the spiny critters recently at the FloraBama Yacht Club in Pensacola, Florida. Head chef Chris Sherrill, who is a certified lionfish assassin, fried them with some grits on the side and we munched on ‘em like a wild band of stray cats. If mankind can wipe out animals we don’t even eat, like condors and manatees, then we’re a disgrace to our species if we can’t endanger a fish that tastes so good. Of course, it helps when someone like Chef Chris is doing the cooking.

Our scuba diving communities have become gun slinging cowboys chasing the lawless lionfish banditos. Finally, they can kill fish without raising the ire of the vegan, tree-hugging, granola eco-freaks. They’re actually killing for conservation. One obstacle to this solution is that scuba divers can’t go beyond about 130 feet, that is, unless they’re breathing special gases or don’t care about living. Lionfish, on the other hand, thrive as deep as 300 feet where only submarines and three-headed sea monsters dwell. To exacerbate the problem, lionfish living in deeper waters are often much larger (as big as 16-inches long) which means they can produce even more eggs. In shallow waters, mass murdering scuba divers can help to control lionfish populations but they’re helpless in deep water. So, while divers should be commend for their efforts, other solutions to eradicate lionfish must be found to stop their seemingly endless expansions. Here are some possibilities:

Traps

In 2013 Frank Cooney Jr., whose family owns the Bimini Sand Resort, invented a trap that supposedly only catches lionfish. It’s an ingenious contraption but it’s still in the early stages of testing. If Cooney’s trap or another iteration of it proves successful, we might begin to stem the tide invaders in deep and shallow waters.

Sterilization

In Rocky Mountain streams and lakes all over the county, where big trout are the prize, hatcheries have learned to raise sterile trout that can’t and won’t breed. These triploid trout, so named because they’re given a third chromosomes, were developed so they wouldn’t interbreed and water down the indigenous trout’s gene pool. Sterilization may help to slow the reproduction of lionfish but it’s untested and only being discussed on forums, blogs and seminars.

More Science

In the Indo-Pacific, lionfish have not run roughshod over the reefs so something is keeping their numbers in check. Perhaps it’s a parasite or some other microorganism. The reason is unknown but experts point out that Pacific groupers eat lionfish so if the grouper population is healthy, usually the lionfish population is in balance. Atlantic groupers don’t seem to eat lionfish. And, grouper schools in Florida and the Caribbean are but a fraction of what they once were. Groupers may learn to eat lionfish if efforts to reestablish grouper populations are successful. A reef that is teeming with grouper will likely be a reef that has fewer lionfish because the big groupers will eat just about anything to survive.

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