Ask the Conservationist

What can we do about invasive Lionfish in the Atlantic?

One solution for this growing population of invasive species that threatens our fishing industry? Eat them.

For the past few years, there has been a rapid spread of lionfish, and it has been predicted that if we don’t curb the lionfish explosion, we can expect smaller fishing catches in the future.

One reader questions what can be done about the growing population of this invasive species.

Read the answer from one of the Conservancy’s experts on oceans and coasts below.

David M. Lefever from Chevy Chase, MD, writes: What, if anything, should we do to address the growing population of lionfish in Atlantic Ocean waters?

Eleanor Phillips, The Nature Conservancy's Northern Caribbean program director, replies:

Lionfish feed on larval and juvenile grunts, snapper, other fish and crustaceans that are important for food and export. If this invasion continues, our fishing industry – which is very important in a country like The Bahamas – could suffer.

Most scientists and conservationists think aquarium owners in the Southeast United States released the lionfish into the shallow inland bays and estuaries, possibly in Florida. There was also a possible linkage to a breach of a marine aquarium in the southeast during the passage of a hurricane, which ended up releasing several lionfish into the ocean. Lionfish are now consistently observed all over the wider Caribbean region and along the eastern seaboard. 

Lionfish numbers in the Atlantic – especially around the Bahamas – were low initially but quickly and significantly increased for several reasons:  

  • Lionfish have no known natural predators;
  • There initially was no fishing pressure on the lionfish, as fishermen were reluctant to capture lionfish because of a lack of understanding of the lionfish biology;
  • Lionfish have no natural predator in the Atlantic, and reproduce more frequently in our region than in their natural range.

In many countries such as China and Indonesia, lionfish are eaten by locals. There has been a tremendous amount of public outreach and education targeting the wider Bahamian population including training workshops for fishermen on how to handle and prepare lionfish. Lionfish is delicious and can be used in any fish recipes calling for fish filet or whole small fish.

The Nature Conservancy is working with several agencies to increase public awareness of the impact that lionfish are having on marine resources in the Atlantic and around the Bahamas. Bahamian residents are being trained on how to identify and safely remove lionfish from shallow seas, and The Bahamian Department of Marine Resources (DMR) has started an environmental awareness and education program about lionfish. The Nature Conservancy recently produced a lionfish lifecycle poster geared towards increasing the public’s awareness of the impact of this species on our marine resources. 

The College of The Bahamas Marine and Environmental Sciences Institute has also conducted genetic research on the origin of the lionfish as well as conducting targeted surveys to determine the impact this species is having on our marine environment.

Read a Q&A about lionfish with Eleanor Phillips.

Originally posted in October 2012.


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