LIONFISH: FACTS, VENOM & CRISIS CONTROL IN THE BAHAMAS – & A COUNTER-VIEW


LIONFISH: UNINVITED GUESTS IN THE BAHAMAS

I recently put some lionfish details and images on my MARINE LIFE page. I wrote: “…their existence and rapid increase in the waters of the Bahamas is a cause of great concern, and they are keenly hunted. Last year’s inaugural Lionfish Derby on Green Turtle Cay brought in more than 1400 of these creatures in the day, ranging in size from  a 57mm juvenile to a 349mm fish. Here, from THE ABACO SCIENTIST is where in the world the 2 species of Lionfish ought by rights to be. Well away from the Caribbean, that’s where!

 Photo credit: Brigitte Carey of Tilloo Cay

Two great lionfish photos from GRAND BAHAMA SCUBA  (thanks to Fred & Melinda Riger )

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LIONFISH Pterois

1o UNCOMFORTABLE LIONFISH FACTS

  • A genus of  spiny venomous fish indigenous to the Indo-Pacific area, of which there are 9 species
  • In the mid 1990s 2 species were introduced to the US Atlantic coast and Caribbean (see below)
  • Unaccountably popular as aquarium fish; cooked and eaten by people (though not by me)
    For recipes see LIONFISH HUNTER
  • An adult can weigh 1/2 kilo and may live up to 15 years
  • They have ‘complex courtship and mating behaviour’, presumably to avoid each other’s spines
  • Females release two egg cluster bombs every month containing up to fifteen thousand eggs…
  • Lionfish prey voraciously on small fish, invertebrates and molluscs which they gooble up in one gulp
  • They have bilateral swim-bladder muscles to alter their centre of gravity to attack their prey better
  • Apart from a tendency to species cannibalism, they have very few predators. The spines work well…
  • Sharks are not affected by the venom, and attempts have been made to train them to feed on lionfish 

LIONFISH STINGS are painful and can take several days to resolve. Tests on frogs, clams and rabbits… well, you don’t want to hear about those. In humans the venom causes systemic symptoms ranging from nausea, vomiting, fever, breathing difficulties and dizziness to convulsions and paralysis. For the very young, the elderly, the allergic or those with immune system weakness the sting can be fatal. TREATMENT: If stung it is recommended that you remove the spine(s) if possible and immerse the wound in hot water for at least 15 minutes… and seek medical treatment as soon as possible

THE CARIBBEAN INVASION supposedly started in the mid-1990s, perhaps following hurricane damage to an aquarium in southern Florida. A few earlier sightings had been recorded, possibly the result of  deliberate aquarium releases. Two of the 9 species are involved: the red lionfish P. volitans (93%) and the common lionfish P. miles (7%). It’s a measure of their rapid breeding, habitat adaptability and near-immunity from predation that the first recorded lionfish in the Bahamas was as recent as 2004. A mere 8 years later they’ve spread throughout the region. 

POPULATION INCREASE AND CONTROL The population is increasing exponentially despite efforts at control. Their voraciousness and territorial aggression must certainly be affecting the indigenous populations of reef marine life. The problem is already extreme. It is now unlikely that lionfish can ever be eradicated. Even to confine the population to its current level would require more than a quarter of the adult population to be killed monthly. Lionfish are able to reproduce throughout the year, so there is no seasonal respite. In this conservation-minded era,  official encouragement of  organised hunting bucks the trend towards creature protection. Lionfish do have food value, if natural human reluctance to eat a venomous species can be overcome, and there are now many lionfish recipes. Whether killing lionfish for sport or for food, humans are their only effective predators. Below is an example, from Oceans Watch, of the sort of campaign that will surely become commonplace throughout the region. Time to reach for the speargun…

THE COUNTER-ARGUMENT

The above is the orthodox view, widely held throughout the region. Some will ask whether the arrival of the lionfish in the Caribbean has any positives; whether they actually make a contribution to the ecology of the area; whether there is a convincing case to put forward in favour of the species; whether there is evidence to back it up. So to redress the balance I commend these 4 short videos from the enormously experienced Grand Bahama diver Fred Riger, in which he cogently demonstrates the value of this imported species. In short, the videos reveal that the adverse effect on endemic fish populations is not merely overstated but wrong; that the spreading menace to the coral reefs of choking algal growth is actually reversed by lionfish; and that important grazing crab species are thriving as a result. 
I posted the bad lionfish stuff last night; by this morning Fred had rightly taken me to task for only giving one side of the story: “Far from being a pest, lionfish are solving a huge problem created by the mother of all invasive species HUMANS, who have over fished the ocean, wiped numerous species out of existence, killed most of the world’s coral, the very stuff we in the Bahamas live on. Targeting lionfish sets conservation efforts back thirty years or more and contributes to the decline of the coral reef”. So here are the videos giving the case in favour of lionfish, and they certainly provide a fresh perspective and plenty of food for thought…
 
“LIONFISH IMPACT: THEY ARE NOT SO EVIL AFTER ALL”

4 thoughts on “LIONFISH: FACTS, VENOM & CRISIS CONTROL IN THE BAHAMAS – & A COUNTER-VIEW

  1. I understand the point Mr.Fred Riger is trying to convey and he makes a valid argument. By the same token, if the lionfish is left unchecked and allowed to propagate at the rate they do. I’m afraid the only thing left on the reef will be the cleaner crab and the lionfish. When that happens, due to the lionfishs voracious appetite, say goodbye to the cleaner crab. Maybe eradicating the lionfish is not the answer but rather a new sustainable fishery.

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    • Hi Christopher, thanks for contributing. This is getting to be an interesting developing debate! May be the answer is somewhere in the centre – lionfish are not all bad and can benefit the reefs, but it’s their year-round prolific breeding capacity that is incompatible with Atlantic marine ecology… All the best, RH

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  2. Although I’m not a big fish eater, I love Lionfish. It is one of the tastiest, sweet fish I’ve ever eaten. Unfortunately, not many realize how tasty it is, so it has not hit the fish markets.

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    • Hi Molly, that’s interesting to hear such culinary enthusiasm – so did you check out the recipe link? Making lionfish a mainstream food is reckoned to be a way forward for control through fishing. NB I’ve added 4 short videos today showing less well-known / publicised benefits of the species… ATB from RH

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