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Lionfish: The Latest Update

By Slickrock Adventures on November 1, 2013

Lionfish are a big problem in Belize, the Caribbean and the entire Atlantic. We like to stay on top of the lionfish story and have covered it thoroughly over the past three years on this blog.

Lionfish in the news again

divers hunt lionfishThis update is prompted by several recent news stories: an October 19 CNN report which itself was covered on October 21 in The Christian Science Monitor and on Yahoo News. Kicking off this latest news cycle about the problem, CNN reporter Katie Linendoll and film crew join a Bermuda lionfish hunting expedition at 200 feet and use the occasion to recount the story of the lionfish invasion and the evidence pointing to it’s origins with Florida tropical pet fish owners releasing the exotic species into the wild. CNN has previously covered the story on its Eatocracy blog with an article bearing the catchy title: Eat them before they eat everything.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Elizabeth Barber then climbs on board the lionfish story train, using the occasion to cite a study released three months ago by several US universities that found large populations of the invasive fish at depths up to 300 feet. Since the main impacts of the lionfish invasion so far have been on coral reef ecosystems in shallower waters, this deep water aspect is unusual.The new study shows that, despite somewhat successful campaigns to spur dinner-table demand for lionfish and therefore provide economic incentive for commercial spearfishing of the invader, lionfish may have moved to deeper water to escape the hunt and replenish their population. Found numerous at depths up to 300 feet, they are beyond the reach of most spearfishing expeditions. This is bad news for those hoping the lionfish-for-dinner campaign would rollback the invasion.

On the other hand, an October 10 article in The Cay Compass reports on preliminary findings from two years of field studies at six dive sites off the Cayman Islands where lionfish were systematically hunted. Though the final results of the study have yet to be published, researchers said that the sites where the invasive fish was hunted had a 70% higher count of native species than at comparable control sites. The six test sites were at depths between 50 and 90 feet deep.