Lionfish

Today I want to briefly talk about a problem we have here in the Caribbean region, and also along the East Coast of the USA (and some other places in the world). The problem is called the lionfish (Pterois sp.

As you can see on the picture, they are a beautiful species, very interesting to look at. They remind me of zebras as below the surface, colors become less distinct and the reddish bands start to look darker or even black. They have such a nice pattern and a feather-like set of fins. But be careful not to get too close because some spines in the dorsal, pelvic and anal fins are are poisonous. You don’t want to get stung. 

They are problematic because they don’t belong here, they are an invasive species. They have been introduced in our waters, probably by humans who got them in an aquarium, but the true reason is not confirmed. What is for sure is that due to rising temperatures of the seawater, they have been able to survive and breed. Their population is expanding at a high pace. They can spawn eggs every 4 days, which is much faster than the majority of other fishes. Combine this with the fact that they have no natural predators which hunt them, their numbers grow quickly. They are not picky about food either, they eat any kind of other fish that fits in their mouths. They have become a threat to other species. What can we do about it?

One way to try to control their numbers is by spearfishing. I have done a few dives to capture as many as I can. I first got a safety briefing about using the speargun. We tried on land first, aiming for young coconuts on the ground. It is important to get as close as possible without scaring the lionfish away and aim right behind the head. Good buoyancy control is the key to success here. Yet another reason why I am so happy with my advanced diver course. Once they are stuck on the spear, they show an unstoppable desire to live. I have seen pierced lionfish wiggling themselves free from the spear and swimming to freedom. They recover from the wound and they get much harder to catch again. They learn quickly. Once caught, it is important to not get stung and put them safely in a “Zookeeper”, a kind of half-closed tube and a one-way entry. The spear goes inside and you pull it back out. The fish is captured (unless it still manages to escape, as they often live for quite a while after being caught.) 

Another approach to keeping their numbers under control is by “teaching” other animals, like big moray eels, to feed on them. But when has there ever been a favourable result when mankind interfered with nature, even with good intention? A small change always ends up in a chain reaction of unforeseen consequences.

The hunt may be cruel, but the lionfish species are relentless in their hunting and reproduction and if not controlled, they form a real threat for reefs and fish species all over the world.

Zookeeper picture downloaded from: http://www.lionfish-slayer.com/product/zookeeper-mount/

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