Dr. Steve Gittings “Doc”
Doc has been in the Lionfish Community and hunting lionfish since 2010! He started tracking the lionfish problem in 2010 and began building traps in 2014.
My job is to protect ocean ecosystems in national marine sanctuaries, and I enjoy every minute of it. But despite everything we do, I’ve watched coral reefs degrade consistently over at least the last four decades, and lionfish are both a cause and a symptom of this health crisis. Now my job includes helping lead the way that government programs respond to the lionfish invasion. We use science to understand the threat, monitoring to track how populations and impacts are changing, removals to reduce those impacts, and education to get people involved. We also encourage entrepreneurs and commercialization of lionfish. Personally, I decided early on that there was a role for me in developing traps that would allow us to remove lionfish from water beyond scuba depths while helping create economic opportunities for the fishing community.
What do you like about lionfish hunting?
If I’m honest, not much. Killing fish is not something I enjoy. But we’re facing a “conservation paradox,” where we believe we have to kill certain animals to save the places we care about. And even though humans are at fault for the lionfish invasion (and the degradation that made it so easy for them to invade), until Nature can control lionfish populations by finding native predators, diseases, or other controls, removals by people are necessary to protect native biodiversity. Hunting is not what we’d prefer, but it does seem to be effective. On the bright side, lionfish won’t be eradicated, so we’ll still be able to enjoy their beauty in the future, but hopefully they won’t be so abundant that they destroy everything around them.
What do you like about the lionfish community?
I call the people of the lionfish invasion “the silver lining,” because I’ve met so many wonderful people who I never would have crossed paths with if I just stayed in the science world. Another guy, Jeff MacGregor, wrote an article for Smithsonian Magazine and called them a “Ragtag Army” – another apt moniker! Either way, there are tons of great and colorful characters working on lionfish, from hunters like Rachel Bowman and Alex Fogg; entrepreneurs like Alli ElHage who invented ZooKeeper, Aarav Chavda who started Inversa Leathers, and Dianny Henriquez, who makes beautiful lionfish jewelry in Belize; scientists like Holden Harris and dozens of other dedicated people who are true environmental heroes, whether they know it or not.
I’d like to know if people can think of examples of grassroots approaches to conservation that have been as extensive, and seemingly successful as the lionfish response. I can’t. The combination of shallow water hunting and commercialization has proven that while eradication may not be possible, control is. And by becoming the predator, at least for now, we can protect the places we love.