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Entries in lionfish (16)

Wednesday
Mar112015

Lionfish Are Malicious But Delicious

Can we eat enough lionfish to keep them from damaging native species and marine ecosystems? Probably not.

But it won’t hurt to try.

Last month, the first “Celebrity Chef Lionfish Challenge” was presented during the annual SeaWeb Seafood Summit, the world’s premier conference on sustainable seafood. Co-hosted by SeaWeb and National Marine Sanctuary Foundation (NMSF), the Challenge brought together seven top regional chefs to prepare their signature lionfish dishes.

Some of the recipes that they came up with include lionfish succotash, lionfish wreckdriver style, and lionfish with crawfish sauce piquant and creole cream cheese grits. Check out all of them here.

According to NMSF, “While visually stunning, the lionfish is an invasive species plaguing marine ecosystems in U.S. waters, particularly the southeast Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.

“As conventional population reduction methods have proven unsuccessful, organizations are innovating. The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation  and SeaWeb hope a secret weapon – America’s chefs – will spread the word that lionfish are malicious but delicious.”

Lionfish were first confirmed in U.S. waters in the 1980s and, with few natural predators and a fast breeding cycle, their presence is now permanent. They have had significant impact in the Flower Garden Banks, Florida Keys, and Gray’s Reef national marine sanctuaries.

Reduction of the lionfish population is a priority throughout the ocean community and, among their many functions and services, the sanctuaries serve as sentinel sites for control efforts. NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has just released its Lionfish Response Plan. At Flower Garden Banks, NMSF-funded expeditions have removed quantities of the predators and provided data used to improve population control techniques. 

Monday
Jan192015

Divers Capture Another Invader in Florida Waters

Surgeon fish photo by Deb Devers

Congratulations to two divers who had the good sense to report and then capture an exotic fish. Their actions might have prevented its establishment in Florida waters.

The two first noted the small, bright yellow fish while SCUBA diving beneath Palm Beach County’s Blue Heron Bridge, and realized that they never had seen one like it. They took photos and later reported what they had seen to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), a non-profit that keeps track of exotic marine fish species.

According to the Miami Herald, REEF identified the fish as a mimic lemon peel surgeonfish, also known as a chocolate surgeonfish. It’s native to the Indo-Pacific, and this was its first sighting in Florida waters. Upon learning that, the divers returned to where they had first seen the fish and captured it.

"We don’t know what the effects would have been if the fish had become established and began reproducing,” REEF said. “But if we wait to find out, then it’s too late.”

Taking out the surgeonfish could prove to be the fourth preemptive strike against a non-native marine fish species in Florida coastal waters, according to the organization.

In 1999 and 2002, REEF staff and volunteers captured four large Indo-Pacific batfish from Molasses Reef in Key Largo. In 2009, they removed a whitetail dascyllus damselfish from the east side of the Blue Heron Bridge. In 2012, Miami divers Greg Caterino and Wayne Grammes speared an exotic humpback grouper on a reef off Biscayne National Park and turned the carcass over to REEF. None of those three species are known to have reappeared in Florida waters since their removals.

“Some people might say, ‘Oh big deal, we took this little fish out of the water,’” REEF said. “But that’s the way the lionfish got started. If only we could have taken the first few lionfish out of the water in the first place. We’re relying on divers, snorkelers and fishermen to be our eyes and ears on the water. It’s a perfect example of how early detection and rapid removal can be successful in stemming an invasion.”

Anyone who spots a strange-looking fish that they suspect is invasive is advised to take a photo and report the sighting to REEF.

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.”