Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific and beautiful fish to look at, and can be quite the attraction in someone’s salt water fish tank. Unfortunately, back in 1985, it seems that a couple of people got tired of taking care of their lionfish and dumped them into the Atlantic Ocean. Less than five years later, the lionfish had become established in North America.
The problem with lionfish is they prey on fish and invertebrates which are commercially and ecologically important, and have the ability to reduce fish populations by up to 95% in areas. Unfortunately, there are no native predators in the Atlantic to help control the lionfish population. This has resulted in the lionfish spreading from the upper coast of the United States south to Venezuela.
Actively working to help control the lionfish population is REEF, the Reef Environmental Education Foundation. Keri Kenning, Communications Manager for REEF, readily admits that lionfish will never be eradicated from the Atlantic, but the population can be controlled if divers and dive operators follow some simply Do’s and Don’ts.
- Local efforts work. Much like weeding a garden, harvesting lionfish from favorite dive sites works. But also like gardening, divers must be continually vigilant to make sure the lionfish do not come back and re-establish themselves.
- Eat ’em and beat ’em. Divers can go to www.reef.org/lionfish to find a list of restaurants which serve lionfish, and also find resources on how to filet and serve lionfish at home.
- Education. Divers and the public need to know how they can help control the lionfish population. Go to reef.org/lionfish/workshops for more information.
- Don’t feed lionfish to other marine animals. It does not train the other marine animals to prey on the lionfish, it just teaches them to be feed by humans. It is also unsafe for human (barracudas get aggressive to divers when they think they are going to be fed – even if the divers are not feeding them), and unsafe for the marine life (eels have been found dead with harvested lionfish remains caught in their throats).