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Caribbean Lionfish Are “Here to Stay”

Above: a lionfish (Photo: Abel Valdivia)

By the Caribbean Journal staff

The Caribbean’s lionfish problem will not get better without vigilant management of the species, according to a new study from researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

While the origin of the species is debated (some point to a Miami aquarium damaged by Hurricane Andrew in 1992), the red lionfish, which is native to the Indo-Pacific region, have become a terrorizing force for Caribbean marine species.

“When I began diving 10 years ago, lionfish were a rare and mysterious species seen deep within coral crevices in the Pacific Ocean,” said Serena Hackerott, lead author and master’s student in marine sciences, in a University news release. “They can now been seen across the Caribbean, hovering above the reefs throughout the day and gathering in groups of up to ten or more on a single coral head.”

The team looked at 71 reefs across the Caribbean over a three-year period, finding that native predators “do not influence” the number of lionfish in a given area.

And the solution for controlling them will simply be to fish them, according to the study.

“Lionfish are here to stay, and it appears that the only way to control them is by fishing them,” said John Bruno, professor of biology in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences and lead investigator of the study.

That solution appears to be bearing fruit in areas like Belize, where divers and reef managers work to remove lionfish from local waters every day.

In other countries, the fish are being caught and eaten in mainstream restaurants — once the fish’s poisonous spines have been removed.

“Active and direct management, perhaps in the form of sustained culling, appears to be essential to curbing local lionfish abundance and efforts to promote such activities should be encouraged,” the study found.

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