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Trouble in paradise

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

The lionfish is an outstandingly beautiful predatory fish native to the warm waters of the Indo-Pacific, but these distinctive fish have found their way into non-native territory and are wreaking havoc.

Lionfish have been introduced to the Western Central Atlantic, Caribbean Region and Gulf of Mexico by man (accidental and non-accidental). The first recorded sighting of invasive lionfish was off the coast of Florida in the 1980s and have since become an established and very successful species in this region to the detriment of native species.

Lionfish are a force to be reckoned with. They are non-discriminant feeders and will literally eat anything that will fit in their mouths. Lionfish are consuming juvenile fish such as young groupers before they have chance to reproduce and are seriously disturbing the ecosystem. This species is doing so well they have been found to be breeding at depths of 300m. In addition to their ferocious appetite, lionfish are so successful in this region because they have no natural predators; they just aren’t recognised by native fish as dangerous.

Invasive lionfish can have a direct impact on important species to coral reef ecosystems such as parrotfish. Parrotfish are one of many reef species that are popular and over-fished, and with the added pressure of lionfish predation, parrotfish are likely to be in decline. Parrotfish are crucial for preventing seaweed and algae from overgrowing corals which can suffocate and kill the corals, thus reducing habitat for other species. Every native species living on coral reefs are important and play a role to maintain the equilibrium of the habitat.

To try and combat the devastating effects lionfish are having on the Atlantic, Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, some people have taken to killing lionfish during derbies and by harvesting them for consumption, however, many people are not aware that lionfish are edible or cannot afford to buy them due to high costs. A whole lionfish can fetch between 15 to 18 US dollars in Florida, but in Mexico a fillet costs 10 US dollars per kg. Derbies are an important control measure eradicating up to thousands of lionfish from important habitats daily, however, this technique will unlikely eradicate the lionfish at this point.

It seems it may be too late for this situation to be rectified and we will likely see population crashes and worrying ecosystem changes in this region. Therefore, it is imperative that we make every effort to prevent the introduction of non-native species to other places and support techniques introduced to manage already-established invasive species.

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