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Entries in lionfish (14)

Friday
Oct242014

Finding Ways to Tame Lionfish

Years ago, Missouri wildlife managers decided to reduce an exploding deer population in a St. Louis suburb. But instead of culling the herd humanely, they bowed to pressure from animal lovers, and, at great expense, trapped and moved deer to a more rural area.

Follow-up research revealed that those deer died of starvation. They had grown so accustomed to eating tulips, roses, and other domesticated plants that they did not recognize wild forage.

Besides showing the folly of trying to manage wildlife by emotion instead of science, this example reveals one of the reasons that exotic species can become so prolific and troublesome in their new habitats. Native species do not see them as food, and, consequently, their populations are free to grow unchecked by predation.

Down in the Caribbean, divers are trying to do something about that by teaching sharks to eat invasive lionfish. The latter are gobbling up native species, especially reef fish.

“From a scientific point of view, we don't know how successful the project is. But, apparently, recent videos show native top predators are starting to eat lionfish without them being previously speared by divers,” says a marine biologist. (Go here to see some great photos of sharks eating lionfish.)

Meanwhile, lionfish populations have declined around Jamaica because another species is eating the invaders --- man.

Dayne Buddo, a Jamaican marine ecologist who focuses on marine invaders at the Caribbean island's University of the West Indies, attributes much of the local decrease in sightings to a growing appetite for their fillets. He says that Jamaican fishermen are now selling lionfish briskly at markets. In contrast, a few years ago island fishermen "didn't want to mess" with the exotic fish with spines that can deliver a very painful sting.

The same strategy eventually may help us control Asian carp in the nation’s rivers and impoundments. Go here to check out my post about that.

Tuesday
Sep232014

Time to Begin Limited Harvest of Goliath Groupers?

 Photo by Robert Montgomery

Count me as one who favors a limited permit system for harvest of goliath groupers by recreational anglers.

The large, predatory fish have made a remarkable recovery in Florida waters, with fishermen frequently tangling with them as they pursue other species. And sometimes the goliaths eat those other species as they are being reeled in.

A legitimate concern, though, is how an exploding population of exotic lionfish will affect the population. The invaders are notorious predators on juvenile fish of many species, goliaths included.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will consider management issues when a new stock assessment is completed next spring.

Overharvest by commercial and recreational fishermen nearly pushed the goliaths to extinction by the mid 1980s. But during the 25 years since harvest was banned, they’ve rebounded in dramatic fashion.

The News-Press reports the following:

In a University of Florida survey, 1,518 recreational hook-and-line fishermen, 574 recreational spear fishermen, 697 commercial fishermen and 352 sightseeing divers answered a series of questions about goliath grouper.

Among the findings:

  • Commercial fishermen: 68 percent were interested in harvesting goliath grouper; 32 percent said goliath grouper encounters were desirable; 42 percent said the goliath grouper is a nuisance species.
  • Recreational hook-and-line and spear fishermen: 78 percent were interested in harvesting goliath grouper; 52 percent said goliath grouper encounters were desirable; 20 percent said the goliath grouper is a nuisance species.
  • Sightseeing divers: 87 percent said goliath grouper encounters were desirable; 9 percent said the goliath grouper is a nuisance species (these divers were not asked about their interest in harvesting goliath grouper but did express support for keeping the fishery closed to harvest). 

Some hook-and-line fishermen and spear fishermen consider goliath grouper a nuisance because they steal hooked and speared fish.

Sightseeing divers, on the other hand, like seeing and photographing goliath grouper, which can grow to 8 feet in length and weigh 800 pounds.

"We learned from the survey and anecdotal information that the difference is the individual's goals," said Florida Sea Grant agent Joy Hazell, co-author of the report on the survey. "If a diver sees a big, giant fish that he's spent money to see, it's a good experience. If a fisherman has a good fish hooked and loses it to a goliath grouper, the perception is he's lost money. As the goliath grouper population has increased, there's a perception for some people that it's becoming a problem,"

Spearfisherman Zachary Francis of Fort Myers is all for a well managed goliath grouper harvest.

"They should have a bag limit, like one per boat per day, and a slot size," he said. "The fact is that they're overpopulated. Any dive you make, you'll see five or six. They can be very aggressive. They're the premier predatory fish on the reef, and they're eating all the other groupers."

While goliath grouper will aggressively go after speared and hooked fish, studies show that its main diet is crabs and other crustaceans and slow-moving fish.

Brent Argabright, owner of Dean's Dive Center in Fort Myers, is also interested in a managed harvest.

"I don't think they should just give people free rein or just have a 10-day season," he said. "If the state wants to raise money as well as clean out a few of them, they could do like they do with alligator and sell permits."

Tuesday
Jul292014

Florida's New Regulations Help Combat Lionfish Invasion

Florida is known as a tourist-friendly state, but starting Aug. 1, one visitor will no longer be welcome: the invasive lionfish.

Introduced into Florida waters in the late 1980s, lionfish populations have boomed in recent years, negatively impacting native wildlife and habitat.

Go here to learn about the threat that they pose to native fish species.

Several management changes go into effect Aug. 1 that will help the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) combat the growing problem by making it easier for lionfish hunters to remove the spiny predators and limiting further introduction of the species into the waters.

Changes include:

  • Prohibiting the importation of live lionfish;
  • Allowing lionfish to be removed via spearfishing when diving with a rebreather, a device that recycles air and allows divers to remain in the water for longer periods of time (currently, you cannot spear any fish when using a rebreather); and
  • Allowing participants of approved tournaments and other organized events to spear lionfish or other invasive species in areas where spearfishing is not currently allowed (such as certain state parks or refuges). This will be done through a permitting system.

See or catch a lionfish? Report a sighting by downloading the new Report Florida Lionfish app on a smart device or by visiting MyFWC.com/Fishing and clicking on “Recreational Regulations” (under “Saltwater”) and then “Lionfish.”

To learn more about lionfish, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Lionfish.”

Tuesday
Apr232013

Reef fish, Coral at Risk as Lionfish Dominate South Florida Waters

How much damage are exotic lionfish doing to native species and ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico? Here’s what LionfishHunters.org says:

Lionfish have no known predators because they do not belong in these waters. There is nothing here to eat them, and nothing to stop them from consuming all of South Florida's reef fish. 

Lionfish were once among the top 10 imported tropical fish for aquariums, but when the lionfish grew too large aquarium owners began dumping the fish into the waters of the Atlantic.  Now they are breeding at a pace so rapid that scientists and volunteers are feverishly trying to fight the invasion.  To do this they are studying and collecting the lionfish, trying to eliminate a species now found in deep as well as shallow waters.  

Dr. Mark A. Hixon, professor of zoology, and a team of graduate and undergraduate students from Oregon State University have demonstrated that a single lionfish can reduce the population of juvenile fish on small coral reefs by 80 percent in just five weeks.  One large lionfish can consume 20 smaller coral reef fish in a 30-minute period.

Lionfish are carnivores that can eat other fish up to two-thirds their own length.

The  loss  of  the herbivorous fish  on  the  reefs  will  set  the  stage  for  seaweed to potentially overwhelm the coral reefs and disrupt the stability of the environment in which they exist. Once established, lionfish will destroy our reefs and throw our entire ecosystem out of balance  leaving  our  coral  reefs  to  die  and seaweed to take over.

Go here to learn more.

Wednesday
Nov142012

Lionfish Threat Grows in Florida Waters

MyFWCmedia photo.

Exotic lionfish are on the increase in Florida waters, and, in response, the state has eliminated the recreational bag limit through August of 2013. It also has removed the need to have a recreational fishing license when using certain types of spears and dip nets.

“With these changes, which are designed to encourage lionfish-control efforts, the only thing that limits your lionfish hunting is your ability to shoot and the size of your cooler,” says Alan Peirce of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

During the past few years, the population has exploded along the southeast coast, including the Keys.

“Today, we are seeing them in places we’ve never seen them before, including the northern areas of the Gulf of Mexico, as their numbers are increasing rapidly,” Peirce continues.

What’s the problem?

Since lionfish are not native to these waters, they have no natural enemies. That means little or no control of their population. And as their numbers grow, they crowd out native species and/or eat them. This hurts recreational fishing and, in turn, the economies that depend on it.

“Now I don’t want to sound like an alarmist, but this is a serious situation that needs our full attention,” Peirce says.

“This is especially true for those who scuba dive and snorkel in Florida. As it turns out, harvesting by spear or dip net is currently our best means of controlling the species and minimizing the negative consequences.

“Pole spears with multipronged ‘paralyzer’ tips have proved to be the safest and most effective tool for harvest. Puncture-resistant harvest bags and buckets with a rigid funnel entrance can also be used to safely transfer the fish from the spear to the container while avoiding contact with their venomous barbs.”

For more information about lionfish in Florida waters, go here. Also, REEF is a good source.