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Invasion of the Lionfish

Submitted by admin on 2010-07-15 | Last Modified on 2010-07-16

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Mentioning the word 'Lionfish' (Also known as the Scorpionfish, Devil Firefish) around divers of late tends to ignite some very different emotions. Prior to the early 90s the lionfish was merely another predatory fish which was beautiful but equally as dangerous, though since then a lot has changed. The lionfish is native to the Indian Pacific, with the range of it's original origin extending from Western Australia northwards to Malaysia and as far as Japan. Though since this time the lionfish has conquered oceans all over the world, the lionfish is a brutal predator and thus is able to survive in any tropical waters with some ease. The lionfish can now be found throughout much of the Caribbean, Eastern Atlantic, Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.

Now this wouldn't be a problem if the lionfish wasn't such a ferocious predator, but now the presence of the lionfish can cause a threat to other native marine life in any given location where the lionfish has invaded- this poses a danger to the whole reef in some cases. Because of this some divers kill lionfish in areas where they are not native. Other areas have placed a bounty on these fish and are captured alive and brought back to shore for the reward.

The origin of the lionfish in the Caribbean has been one of much interest, according to DNA studies all of the lionfish caught in the Caribbean have been a descendant of one of under 10 lionfish. In other words, it is believed that there were very few lionfish present in the Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico about 20 years ago. This created the idea that all of the Caribbean's and Gulf of Mexico's lionfish population originated from a Florida Aquarium, which was damaged during the category 5 hurricane Andrew in 1992. The aquarium in question had a beach side nursing area for the lionfish, where 6 were being held... This then broke open and allowed the lionfish to escape. There are reports of a lionfish being caught prior to hurricane Andrew, but it appears as though the release of the 6 lionfish from the aquarium may be the true cause of the explosive increase in presence of lionfish, which would support the DNA evidence.

It is a sensitive subject, some support the killing of the lionfish in any circumstances in invaded areas while others believe that the only acceptable way to get rid of the lionfish is to catch them alive and transport them to their original habitats. Some have urged a large government sponsored clean up event where they propose to create a team of divers who perform the task of capturing and transporting lionfish from the above mentioned invaded areas. This would be a large task, but the most humane one.

An interesting fact though, is that while the lionfish is not native to the Caribbean, they seem to thrive there more than in their natural habitats. Not only is the reproduction process effective for them, but they grow nearly double the size reaching lengths in excess of 50cm, as opposed to the normal 30cm in their native areas.

Another reason why the lionfish is so dangerous as an invasive species is that the lionfish, while being a dangerous predator has very few enemies. The lionfish uses it's large sharp poisoness spines as protection, and as such very few larger fish prey on the lionfish. This makes for larger increases in lionfish population.

What is your stance on the lionfish? Are you one of those who support the killing of all non-native lionfish, the capturing for bounty or do you support the effort for a large scale removal of the lionfish from the effected areas?


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The idea of capturing all the Lionfish and send them back to the Indian Ocean, just mean unindating the Indian Ocean with too many Lionfish. I have heard that the Lionfish is edible, with some precautions of course. Killing them would be the less expensive option.
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4 out of 5 stars Here in Panama a group of divers are removing the lionfish from our best and regular dive sites. We believe that control of population in this areas is a good way to preserve local species. We know this is a lost battle, but as long as we can we are going to remove this fishes and try to convince local fishermans and restaurants that this fish is delicious and profitable.
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It’s so sad to see the stupidity of us humans. Seeing these fish in their environment is a beautiful sight and a pity to hear that due to human behaviour they are now found and a problem in areas they where not meant to be. (That is also base on our limited understanding of things) I am just wondering if another sad run of events will be started by popularizing these fish as an editable source. Sure it might solve the problem in those areas they are not wanted, but will the appetite to eat them only remain in those areas, I doubt and will the specie be able to survive in its “local areas” if such extra strain is placed on it?
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Sounds familiar! Same happened with the Caulerpa taxifolia in the Med Sea. Some 20 years ago it "escaped" from the Monaco Oceanographic Museum. Read more:
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Capture, Kill, Eat. Repeat.

Thank you DIVETIME for posting this article.

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