01 February 2010

Lionfish Eradication

Resistance is futile. I'm convinced there's nothing even the most dedicated SFS employee can do to stop the Lionfish invasion. Even since arriving here just 7 months ago, I've noticed substantial increases in Lionfish populations. On one dive the other day I saw 5. At another site, a few days earlier, I saw 4 on the same 3 meter section of reef. The TCI Lionfish population is exploding. And we're never going to be able to stop it.

At best, a committed group of hunters could keep a select area free of them if they regularly patrolled. This could be useful in areas particularly sensitive or valuable, but on the large scale it's impossible. It's sad because the damage these fish do, by out competing other fish and by wiping out stocks of larvae, is serious. They can decimate populations of fish necessary to keep the reefs healthy. Without those certain fish, algae grow uncontrollably and eventually kill the coral. Without the coral, everything dies.

Just because it's hopeless for the individual Lionfish hunter, there's one method that still has some promise. If there's anything that humans are particularly good at, it's depleting resources that have a commercial value. If Lionfish were a commodity, we'd have hoards of people going out to catch them. So the most realistic way to eradicate this pest is to create an industry that consumes them.

Successful promotion of Lionfish as a delicacy or as an environmentally beneficial fish to eat, could have very positive effects. Yes, they are edible. Lionfish are venomous not poisonous. That means they can sting with their spines, but that their flesh is no different than any other fish. They're quite tasty too. It's just that the industry would have to grow large enough, quickly enough to stem the damage happening now.

There's is one long term concern with this idea, however. What happens in the event that this approach is too successful? For instance, if an industry actually manages to wipe out Atlantic Lionfish. What then if they turn to the Lionfish's native grounds in the Indo-Pacific? Or maybe it catches on and people decide it's cheaper to farm Lionfish and actually contribute to the problem.

Realistically, though, I don't think an industry for Atlantic Lionfish would ever grow to a level that would wipe out Atlantic populations. At least not in the foreseeable future. That's just how prolific these fish are. And anyway, it's probably the best bet.

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