The Invasive Lionfish
Picture By Mathijs Vos
If you’re involved in the fishing community you’ve probably heard about the lionfish epidemic. These venomous fish are competing with native fish in our tropical waters, wreaking havoc on the ecosystem. Lionfish have established themselves in the Gulf of Mexico, in the Atlantic along the southeast coast of the United States and in the Caribbean as well.
No one knows for sure how lionfish came to these waters, but several scientists have developed a plausible theory. Lionfish are a popular species to keep in home aquariums. However they grow so quickly that before long the aquarium owner will need to remove them. As more and more aquarium owners were faced the same problem of having to rehome oversized lionfish, more and more were released into the water system. Once they entered our tropical water the fish were not only able to thrive but also to reproduce.
The reason this invasive fish has become such a problem is that the fish has no natural predators. To make matters worse lionfish are carnivores. They consume about 70 different species of fish. Lionfish can grow up to about 18 inches and are capable of eating prey about half their size, so even a 9 inch snapper could be on their menu. In fact a significant portion of their prey are the juvenile fish of larger species like grouper and snapper.
With no predators to fear, lionfish are reproducing at an alarming rate. A single female can spawn over 2 million eggs per year. A lionfish’s larval duration is about 25 days and they reach breeding age inside of a year. It is not unheard of to find lionfish in densities of over 200 per acre.
At this point it looks like lionfish are here to stay, it appears unlikely that we will be able to completely eliminate the species from our waters, however we can try to control their numbers in a bid to minimize their impact on our native fish. With no natural predators it looks like it will fall to the fishing and diving community to do something about them. One of the most effective methods of removing lionfish is spearing, there are currently no bag limits on lionfish and as an added bonus they are edible.
Local communities are now hosting tournaments to make an impact on these fish. One such tournament is being hosted here in the Tampa Bay area on September 12-13 by Guy Harvey. Competitors are allowed to collect as many fish as possible, with prizes being awarded for largest lionfish, largest bag weight and largest number of fish. Hopefully with the advent of tournaments such as this one we can make sure that lionfish numbers stay at a reasonable level.
For more information on this tournament click this link http://www.reefmonitoring.org/lionfish-safari.html