Invasive Lionfish Stump Marine Scientist
Scuba Divers Fight Back
By Fred Garth
The lionfish invasion has gotten more press than Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal. And even though we’re killing them as fast as we can, lionfish refuse to go away…sort of like Christie. The popular aquarium fish with stunning spines and candy stripes are native to the Indo-Pacific. But, as we’ve heard, they have infested the East Coast of the US, the Bahamas and the Caribbean. They’re numbers have grown so large that they’re eating native reef fish with abandon. It’s an issue that has authorities plenty worried and perplexed.
The best idea so far is for scuba divers to hunt them down and eat them. The question is, can we eat them up before they eat everything else? The good news is that lionfish tastes yummy. It’s white, flaky meat is akin to flounder or cod. Recently, I had a fine batch of the critters at the FloraBama Yacht Club in Pensacola, Florida. Head chef Chris Sherrill, who is a certified lionfish assassin, fried them with some grits on the side and we munched ‘em like a wild band of stray cats. If mankind can wipe out animals we don’t even eat, like condors and manatees, then we’re a disgrace to our species if we can’t eradicate a fish that tastes so good.
Even though the scuba diving community has become gun slinging cowboys chasing the lawless lionfish banditos, they have limitations. One major obstacle is that average scuba divers can’t go beyond about 130 feet. Lionfish, on the other hand, thrive as deep as 300 feet where only submarines and three-headed sea monsters dwell. To exacerbate the problem, lionfish living in deeper waters are often much larger (as big as 16-inches long) which means they can produce even more eggs. Scuba divers can help to control lionfish populations up to a point but they’re helpless in deep water. Other solutions must be developed quickly to stop their seemingly endless expansions. Here’s the latest updates:
In 2013, Frank Cooney Jr., whose family owns the Bimini Sand Resort, invented a trap that supposedly only catches lionfish. It’s an ingenious contraption but it’s still in the early stages of testing. If Cooney’s trap or another iteration of it proves successful, we might begin to stem the tide invaders in deep and shallow waters.
In Rocky Mountain streams and lakes all over the county, where big trout are the prize, hatcheries raise sterile trout that can’t and won’t breed. These triploid trout, so named because they’re given a third chromosomes, were developed so they wouldn’t interbreed and water down the indigenous trout’s gene pool. Sterilization may help to slow the reproduction of lionfish but it’s untested and only being discussed on forums, blogs and seminars.
In the Indo-Pacific, lionfish have not run roughshod over the reefs so something is keeping their numbers in check. Perhaps it’s a parasite or some other microorganism. The reason is unknown but experts point out that Pacific groupers eat lionfish so if the grouper population is healthy, usually the lionfish population is in balance. Atlantic groupers don’t seem to eat lionfish. And, grouper schools in Florida and the Caribbean are but a fraction of what they once were. Groupers may learn to eat lionfish if efforts to reestablish grouper populations are successful. A reef that is teeming with grouper will likely be a reef that has fewer lionfish because the big groupers will eat just about anything to survive.
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