Lionfish Frequently Asked Questions
What is Lionfish Central?
Lionfish Central is an organization committed to the evaluation, education, and eradication of invasive lionfish from our reefs. Our growing database of lionfish information is designed as a comprehensive tool for those wishing to contribute to managing lionfish and natural resources in our waters. Lionfish Central works in collaboration with other organizations to prevent the further introduction of invasive lionfish. Our organization is dedicated to providing public education and awareness of lionfish, while supporting research efforts focusing on the biology, ecology, impact and control of the species.
We offer support to organizations and individuals developing tools for control, monitoring and management of lionfish. These efforts are critical to reducing population densities of lionfish in high priority areas, such as coral reefs. Our goal is to help more individuals develop a better understanding of the impacts of lionfish and to protect native species and habitats from the direct and indirect effects of the invasive species. We want to bring the successful efforts of these organizations into focus and share them with those having trouble succeeding. We encourage everyone to get involved and help in this global fight!
Are lionfish dangerous to the oceans?
Basically yes. The lionfish can survive all kinds of conditions and breed extremely fast making them and threat to our ocean-life. Lionfish have been spotted 1,000 feet deep, in cold waters off New York and they can even move into freshwater. With the appetite they have and the speed in which they mature and reproduce – yes they are dangerous…
Frequently Asked Questions about Lionfish
There are a lot of questions about lionfish out there and we would like to bring them all here in one place. So if you can’t find the answers you are looking for feel free to let us know and we will add your questions to our list.
What is Lionfish Central?
Lionfish Central is an organization committed to the evaluation, education, and eradication of invasive lionfish from our reefs. Our growing database of lionfish information is designed as a comprehensive tool for those wishing to contribute to managing lionfish and natural resources in our waters. Lionfish Central works in collaboration with other organizations to prevent the further introduction of invasive lionfish. Our organization is dedicated to providing public education and awareness of lionfish, while supporting research efforts focusing on the biology, ecology, impact and control of the species. We offer support to organizations and individuals developing tools for control, monitoring and management of lionfish. These efforts are critical to reducing population densities of lionfish in high priority areas, such as coral reefs. Our goal is to help more individuals develop a better understanding of the impacts of lionfish and to protect native species and habitats from the direct and indirect effects of the invasive species. We want to bring the successful efforts of these organizations into focus and share them with those having trouble succeeding. We encourage everyone to get involved and help in this global fight!
Are lionfish dangerous to the ocean?
Basically yes. The lionfish can survive all kinds of conditions and breed extremely fast making them and threat to our ocean-life. Lionfish have been spotted 1,000 feet deep, in cold waters off New York and they can even move into freshwater. With the appetite they have and the speed in which they mature and reproduce – yes they are dangerous…
How do lionfish kill coral reefs?
Lionfish themselves don’t actually kill coral reefs, but they eat the fish help that maintain healthy reefs. Many different reef fish eat algae and prevent the corals from getting overgrown and dying. These reef fish help keep our reefs healthy and if they get eaten in large numbers then the reefs are in danger of getting overgrown in algae. Throw in warmer oceans, pollution, and other stresses on our reefs and you are left with a fragile ecosystem.
How often do lionfish reproduce?
It is believed that a mature lionfish can reproduce every 3 to 4 day! Yes that’s a quick. They can also lay upto about 30,000 eggs each time they reproduce! That works out to about 2,000,000 eggs per year!
The scary part is that the eggs do not go into the food chain because of their toxic coating around the eggs. This means that in good conditions 2,000,000 new lionfish will be added to our reefs each year from a single lionfish. With all the lionfish out there you have to think that 50% are females and they reach maturity within a year – that’s a lot of hungry lionfish populating our reefs!
Please help – only humans can stop this.
Are Lionfish Fast Breeders?
Lionfish are potentially the fastest breeders in the Western Atlantic Basin. Lionfish can reproduce frequently, producing about 25,000 eggs per female every four days. In the Caribbean, a single female lionfish can spawn over 2 million eggs per year!
A lionfish can become capable of reproducing in their first year of life. In comparison, most fish native to the western Atlantic and Bermuda areas take 3 to 5 years before becoming capable of reproduction. Once becoming capable of reproduction, a lionfish breeds throughout the year. It is estimated that lionfish have been able to populate a million square miles of ocean in 10 years!
How Do Lionfish Reproduce?
Studies in the Pacific show that male lionfish start off the act of “courtship.” Male lionfish use their spines and fins in a visual display to both intimidate predators but also attract a mate. While this process may go on for days, a male lionfish eventually attracts a female to reproduce through a spawning dance. The male and female lionfish circle each other face to face while ascending slowly. Just before reaching the surface, the female lionfish will release two egg sacks. As these sacks continue to ascend, the male will turn upside down and release a cloud of sperm into the sacks.
Lionfish lay large egg sacks that are capable of producing thousands of baby lionfish. These egg sacks contain a noxious chemical that acts as a repellent. Many more lionfish eggs end up hatching as a result of the toxic sack, compared to the eggs of other fish laid directly in the water. The noxious chemical surrounding the lionfish egg prevents other fish from eating it.
What is Known About Lionfish Larvae?
Lionfish eggs hatch into larvae in a very short time span, between approximately 24 to 36 hours! Lionfish larvae have a large head, a large triangular snout, long serrated head spines, and a large pelvic spine. Only the pelvic spine of the larvae is colored. Lionfish larvae are good swimmers and eat small ciliates and zooplankton just four days after conception. The larval duration of microscopic size larvae is approximately 25 to 30 days. In the larval stage, the larvae looks for hideouts along the seafloor. In approximately 3 more months, the larvae turns into a lionfish resembling its parents.
How Long Do Lionfish Live?
The typical red lionfish is thought to live for approximately 10 years. However, lionfish in captivity have survived for as long as 35 years. In waters where there are no natural predators, lionfish can probably survive much longer than 10 years. Most native fish in these waters have no evolutionary experience with lionfish, and potentially predatory fish do not recognize them as food or know how to approach them. Additionally, lionfish are susceptible to very few parasites compared to other fish, which allows them to spend maximum time hunting and eating. Considering their life expectancy and capability of breeding fast and young, it is no surprise that lionfish populations are reaching alarming numbers.
How can I help save our reefs from lionfish?
There are so many ways to help everyone and every organization out there trying to control the lionfish population. Here are just a few:
- Learn more about the dangers of invasive lionfish and spread the word – tell your family and friends, get involved and educate! Let us help you.
- Support the nonprofits trying to help control the lionfish. There are plenty out there and they could all use support.
- Start calling around to see if restaurans in your area serve lionfish. If they get enough calls they will look for it and add it to their menu. The greater the demand for lionfish the more divers will go out and collect them – thus reducing the population and saving our reefs!
- start a fundraiser and help us or other organizations keep up the good fight!
What ocean do lionfish live in?
When talking about lionfish you can break it down into 2 areas – Native, or where they are naturally found and Non-Native where they are found but shouldn’t be there.
Lionfish are native to the South Pacific and Indian Oceans. They can be found from western Australia and Malaysia east to French Polynesia and the United Kingdom’s Pitcairn Islands, north to southern Japan and south Korea and south to Lord Howe Island off the east coast of Australia and the Kermadec Islands of New Zealand. Lionfish are also found throughout Micronesia.
Non-native lionfish have been reported along the southeastern United States coast from Florida to North Carolina. Juvenile lionfish have been collected in waters off Long Island, New York, and Bermuda. Lionfish are a popular marine ornamental fish and were possibly intentionally released into the Atlantic.
Are Lionfish Dangerous to Humans?
In some situations, lionfish can be dangerous to humans. However, lionfish are not aggressive and there is no documented evidence of a lionfish offensively attacking a human. Most often, lionfish stings occur to individuals who hunt and capture them. For instance, a sting may occur where a thrashing lionfish escapes a spear tip and blindly swims into the hunter while trying to escape. Although rare, some unsuspecting swimmers and bathers in shallow waters have accidentally kicked or stepped on a lionfish resulting in injury. In some situations, individuals get stung by lionfish when handling them after a hunt or preparing them to be cooked. Always treat a lionfish as if it is capable of stinging you until the spines are removed and disposed of properly.
Can I Die From a Lionfish Sting?
There have been no known fatalities documented from a lionfish sting. However, in certain circumstances, death could be possible depending on the individual. A more sensitive individual may be more impacted by the shock, the intensity of the shock, or complications caused by the sting. Individuals who are extremely allergic to different bug bites or stings could be at higher risk for death from a lionfish sting.
How Do I Protect Myself Against a Lionfish Sting?
Individuals should take precaution to protect themselves against a lionfish sting. The difference between poison and venom is the method of delivery. Venom must be injected into the bloodstream to cause injury. Lionfish have sharp spines that deliver the venom. You need to be careful when handling the lionfish. So you don’t get pricked. Protective gloves, prongs and nets are used when capturing lionfish.
What are the Symptoms of a Lionfish Sting?
Symptoms of a lionfish sting include an immediate onset of intense pain followed by swelling, redness and bruising in the area of the puncture wound. There are several secondary symptoms of a lionfish bite, including shortness of breath, anaphylaxis, dizziness, nauseousness, fainting, and temporary paralysis. Pain from a lionfish sting may last several hours and slowly subside after 24 hours. In certain cases, it may take several days for the symptoms to complete subside.
Typically, the severity and duration of the symptoms associated with a lionfish sting are related to the amount of venom delivered, how deep the spines punctured the body, as well as the individual’s sensitivity to the venom.
What Should I Do If I’m Stung By a Lionfish?
It is advisable to seek medical attention in the event of a lionfish sting. If the sting happens during a dive, end the dive as soon as possible and get to a safe place where you can receive assistance. Aid and treatment of lionfish stings include inspecting the puncture wound and removing any pieces of the spine that may have broken off and remain in the wound. Further, control bleeding and immediately apply the hottest tolerable water without scalding or burning the skin. Immersing the area in hot water is advisable. However, if this is not possible, apply a clean cloth soaked in hot water. Hot packs or a hair dryer may also provide relief to the affected area as well. Despite the amount of swelling that may occur, never apply ice or cold compresses until the pain has completely subsided. Cold will make the pain worse and prolong the amount of time dealing with pain symptoms. Over-the-counter pain medications are also helpful for reducing and managing the pain associated with a lionfish sting. Always make sure that the wound is thoroughly cleaned to protect against infection.
Most importantly, seek medical attention immediately if you suspect an extreme allergic reaction, shortness of breath, trouble breathing, decompression illness, fainting, or if the pain becomes intolerable. Likewise, seek immediate medical attention if the wound appears infected or if the injection site appears to be blackening, putrefying, or being eaten away (necrosis or tissue death).
Where are the Lionfish’s Spines?
A typical lionfish has 18 venomous spines in total. In the dorsal fin, lionfish have 13 long spines. In the pelvic fins, the lionfish has 1 short spine in each fin. Likewise, the lionfish has 3 short spines in the leading edge of the anal fin.
Are Lionfish Poisonous or Venomous?
Lionfish are venomous, not poisonous. Venomous means that venom must be injected into the body through their spines before the toxin has any effect. Lionfish have needle-sharp spines that are capable of delivering a potent, protein-based neuromuscular toxin. Just because they are not poison does not mean the sting won’t hurt – it will hurt very badly!
Is Controlling Lionfish Populations Helping the Recovery of Native Fish?
Scientists at Oregon State University, Simon Fraser University and other institutions have shown through the use of computer models and field testing that reducing lionfish populations by specified amounts at the studied areas – between 75-95 percent – allows for a rapid recovery of native fish. Additionally, the study determined that this may aid larger ecosystem recovery as well. The study found that on reefs where lionfish were kept below certain threshold densities, as opposed to complete removal, native fish increased by 50-70 percent. Where no intervention was made, native species continued to decline and disappear. These studies show that controlling lionfish populations in areas that are hot spots for juvenile fish, like mangroves and shallow reefs, is critical to the wellbeing of native fish.
Can You Set Traps Specifically for Lionfish?
Yes but it is not as effective as divers with spears. Lionfish-specific traps are being used to catch this invasive species. One effective trap is known as a fish aggregation device (FAD). An advantage of this trap over other traps is that it does not continue to capture or harm fish or other marine life. Another advantage of this type of trap is that it does not use bait. Accordingly, these traps only catch lionfish and not other species who may be lured by the bait. After the traps are collected, the lionfish are sold to restaurants and markets.
What Efforts Are Being Made to Stop the Lionfish Invasion?
Divers, researchers and ocean advocates have teamed together in an effort to stop the lionfish invasion and save reefs and native marine life. Big names such as Guy Harvey and FWC have become lionfish awareness advocates, hosting contests and events such as “Lionfish Removal Day” where people compete to catch the most lionfish. Currently, the FWC does not have any restrictions on lionfish removal. In fact, the FWC has even gone so far as to raise the lobster bag limit during season for every 50 lionfish caught. Grocery stores such as Whole Foods and Publix are also joining the mission to help curb the growth of the lionfish population by carrying the fish in their stores.
How Are Some Coastal Communities Tackling the Lionfish Problem?
As lionfish populations continue to grow, many communities are beginning to change laws to make exceptions for divers to hunt lionfish. In Aruba, for instance, many divers have actively sought to reduce the impact of lionfish on the native fish population. Individuals and dive schools throughout Aruba actively promote and participate in lionfish hunting, linking up via social media to compete in “lionfish derbies.” During these derbies, divers go around to different reefs and attempt to cull as many lionfish as possible. Some of these expeditions can engage as many as 20 divers and can eliminate more than 100 to 150 lionfish at a time.
Are lionfish a problem?
The easy answer is Yes. The fact is they eat large numbers of reef fish and destroy marine ecosystems and that is a problem. Given the incredible numbers of their reproductions and appetite mixed with few or no predators that can keep them at bay – the reality is that they are here to stay – and yes that’s a problem.
Lionfish are an extremely serious problem because they are out-breeding, out-competing and out-living native fish stocks and other marine species. The consequences of the lionfish invasion threatens food security and economies affecting over one hundred million people. If left unchecked, lionfish will ultimately cause the destruction of the reefs, native fish stocks, and the livelihood of those dependent upon them.
How did the lionfish become invasive?
It is believed that some aquarium owners had pet lionfish that outgrew their tanks or interest so they released them it into the wild. and as you can see with the speed of growth and reproductive numbers the population grew incredibly fast. The eggs can travel with the currents and land throughout the many reefs in the Atlantic ocean. When a fish threatens coral reefs and different marine ecosystems with their reproductive numbers, that makes them invasive.
Can a Lionfish kill a human?
Lionfish can be harmful to humans but mostly they just cause a lot of pain if you were to get pricked by their venomous fins. However if you are allergic to different bug bites or stings like bees, wasps, etc. there is alway a chance that they could kill you.
What problems do lionfish cause?
Lionfish can cause serious damage to our coral reefs, mangroves, sea grasses and other important ecosystems. Lionfish have such a high rate of reproduction and can grow really fast if there is an abundance of small reef fish available. That causes a problem because they can destroy more than 50% of the reef fish in a short period of time – less than a couple of years. Less reef fish means the corals and sea grasses that depend of these reef fish to keep it healthy run the risk of dying off.
Less reef fish also means less larger fish in the area because they will have to go elsewhere to feed. So if you enjoy fishing on your favorite reef you might not be as lucky as time goes on.
How many lionfish are in the world?
It’s hard to say just how many lionfish are in the world. NOAA estimates that in some reefs there are over 1,000 lionfish present per acre. Do the math of their reproduction over their lifespan and the reproduction of their offspring over their lifetime and so on…. the numbers are incomprehensible! Let’s just say that unfortunately there will probably never be a shortage of lionfish….
What are Lionfish?
The lionfish is a carnivorous fish native to the Indo-Pacific that is now an invasive species in the U.S. Southeast and Caribbean coastal waters and other locations in the Atlantic. Lionfish have distinctive red, white, creamy or black bands covering both their head and body as well as fan-like pectoral fins and venomous spiky fin rays. Adult lionfish may grow as large as one foot, while young lionfish may be as small as 1 inch or less. This poisonous spiky fish is predatory, hunting small fish. However, the venom of a lionfish is capable of being fatal to larger creatures.
What Kind of Marine Habitat Do Lionfish Prefer?
Lionfish can be found in almost all marine habitats, but prefer the warm waters of the tropics and depths from 1 to 300 feet. However, lionfish can survive in a number of habitats, including hard bottom, mangrove, sea grass, coral and artificial reefs (i.e., shipwrecks). Typically, lionfish thrive in coastal waters around rocky crevices and coral reefs where there are lots of smaller fish to eat and places to hide.
However, lionfish are extremely adaptable and capable of living at depths down to 1,000 feet! Lionfish may live in mangroves or brackish water, and can tolerate water temperatures down to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, lionfish populations are now found as far north as Massachusetts and as far south as Brazil. Wintertime temperatures seem to be the only limiting factor of lionfish distribution. Science suggests that lionfish are not capable of surviving water temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Can Lionfish Survive in Freshwater?
While adaptable to a number of marine environments, lionfish cannot survive in freshwater. In Florida, however, lionfish can be found in brackish, estuarine environments over 4 miles inland away from the ocean. In these areas, the salinity is approximately only 6 parts per thousand compared to the ocean average of 33 parts per thousand!
What Do Lionfish Eat?
Lionfish eat a wide variety of small fish and crustaceans that inhabit tropical reefs, mainly during dusk and dawn. Lionfish are non-selective feeders and eat mostly any type of fish that they can fit inside their mouth. This includes fish approximately half the length of their body. A lionfish catches its prey by hiding in rock or coral crevices and ambushing it as it swims past. The lionfish then corners its prey with its large fins before swallowing it whole.
The stomach of a lionfish can expand up to 30 times its size. In fact, some lionfish have been found with as many as 40 to 60 prey in their expanded stomachs. As a result, lionfish are capable of hoovering up about 80% of the marine creatures in its area in just 5 short weeks! When food is scarce, a lionfish can survive up to 3 months or longer without eating and will only lose approximately 10% of its body weight.
While not exhaustive, some of the fish that a lionfish will eat include: Grouper, Parrotfish, Snapper, Grunts, Sea Bass, Clownfish, Damselfish, Gobies, Basslets, Wrasse, Blennies, Filefish, Cardinalfish, Jawfish, Sand divers, Shrimps, Crabs, Lobsters, Worms, Seahorses, Octopuses to name a few. Pretty much anything they can fit in their mouths!
In addition to the marine life listed above, lionfish eat a number of important cleaner fish and shrimp responsible for keeping other reef fish clean and healthy. Lionfish also eat algae eaters that keep reefs free from algae build up. Algae build up prevents oxygen and sunlight from reaching coral, and could potentially kill it. Unfortunately, with no natural enemies in the tropical western Atlantic lionfish have invited themselves to an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet in these areas.
What Marine Life Eats Lionfish?
In their native habitat, lionfish have a number of natural predators that have caught and eaten them for millenia. The predators known to eat lionfish in their native habitat are sharks, eels, grouper, cornetfish, frogfish, and scorpionfish.
However, these same predators living in the Western Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea have not recognized the lionfish as food. In these areas, the lionfish is prey to few predators due to both their size and intimidating appearance. While there are a few reports of grouper eating healthy lionfish, the numbers are so low that they are having a minimal effect on controlling lionfish populations.
Can We Train Fish to Eat Lionfish?
It is not likely that we can train other fish to eat lionfish. Some efforts have been made to train sharks and large grouper to eat lionfish with little success. In one experiment, researchers placed small lionfish in a tank of several hungry grouper. Many larger predators cowered away from the more aggressive lionfish and avoided them almost to the point of starvation until the researchers intervened. Unlike mammals, fish do not teach their offspring to hunt and there is no transfer of knowledge from one generation of fish to the next. Accordingly, each new generation of potential lionfish predators would have to be trained to eat lionfish.
Another risk associated with ad hoc training by inexperienced handlers is that trainers (usually divemasters and instructors) teach potentially dangerous predators to equate lionfish hunters with food. As a result, these animals become aggressive and may cause serious injuries to these trainers.
Are Lionfish Safe to Eat?
Lionfish are safe and delicious to eat, and similar in taste to grouper or hogfish. Lionfish have a flaky white flesh that is mild and buttery in taste. Moreover, lionfish are a healthy fish containing a higher concentration of heart healthy Omega 3 fatty acids and lower concentrations of Omega 6 fatty acids. Nutritional studies found that, in comparison to other fish, lionfish are high in lean protein and contain lower levels of heavy metals such as mercury. Once the venomous spines of the lionfish are removed, they can be prepared like any other fish.
Is Eating Lionfish Dangerous?
Lionfish are not dangerous to eat and there are no risks associated with eating lionfish that is improperly prepared or cooked. Because the venom of a lionfish would be denatured the moment it came into contact with stomach acid, even ingesting lionfish venom would not present any health risks. Lionfish are extremely safe to eat in most areas, however, just like snapper, grouper and barracuda, caution must be exercised in areas where ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP) is a problem. Local fisherman, divers, and restaurants will often be aware if these type of issues are causing local seafood concerns.
How Do Lionfish Affect Native Species of Marine Life?
Invasive lionfish feed on native species that do not recognize lionfish as a predator. As a result, small fish do not flee from a hungry lionfish. In fact, small fish will often congregate around a lionfish believing they are seeking shelter in the lionfish’s long spines, fin rays, and feathery pectoral fins from other predators. However, when the lionfish becomes hungry, these small fish are herded into alcoves where they cannot escape. Lionfish are lightening fast and are capable of gulping down dozens of whole fish at a time. Studies have demonstrated that a single lionfish can reduce native marine creatures in its range by 80 to 90 percent within a 5 week span!
How Do Lionfish Affect Coral Reefs?
Lionfish feed on important species including “grazers” and “cleaners” that maintain the health of coral reefs and other fish. Grazer species of marine life eat the algae that grows over the reef and include species such as parrotfish, goatfish, wrasses, surgeonfish, and many others. These species are important in keeping algae levels low enough that the coral gets enough oxygen to survive. Likewise, maintaining algae levels also allows the coral to spawn and creates space for baby coral to settle onto substrate where it can establish itself and grow.
Over 42 million people in the Western Atlantic Basin make their living through coral reefs, mainly through fishing and tourism. These same coral reefs also provide protection and shelter to entire schools of marine creatures. Moreover, some say that reefs and the algae that grows on them may provide as much as 80% of the world’s oxygen!
How Do Lionfish Affect the Health of Other Fish?
Lionfish affect the health of other marine species because they are diminishing populations of cleaner fish such as shrimp, wrasse and gobies. Cleaner fish are responsible for removing harmful material from native fish and other marine creatures. A lionfish will consume small fish and invertebrates that are designed to work in cleaning stations. Reef fish, turtles and other marine life go to these stations to have parasites and other detritus removed to keep themselves healthy. Typically, these cleaner species are free from predators or harm while doing their work and are able to crawl over the mouths of potential predators. However, lionfish are the exception to this rule and will gorge themselves on cleaner species and decimate entire cleaning stations. The decline in cleaning stations due to lionfish poses a serious threat to the overall health of the creatures that depend on them for survival.
How Do Lionfish Affect the Commercial Fishing Industry?
Lionfish are decimating many species of fish important to the commercial fishing industry. Many fish eaten by lionfish are commercially sold for human consumption as well as for nutritional supplements and for other industrial uses such as pharmaceuticals, animal feeds, pigments, clothing (skins and pearls), and fertilizers. As commercially important fish diminish due to lionfish consumption, the price of these items will go up. Several “table fish” varieties served in local restaurants such as grouper, snapper and tuna will become more difficult to catch and the result is a spike in price. Accordingly, eating habits may shift to other protein sources and force fisherman and other fishing communities out of business.
How Do Lionfish Affect Tourism?
While lionfish undoubtedly affect the commercial fishing industry, lionfish can also negatively impact tourism. Entire economies, such as those in the Bahamas, Caymans, Cozumel, and the Bay Islands of Honduras depend on tourism related revenue that sport fishing and scuba diving generates. In fact, diving alone accounts for a $2.1 billion economy in the Caribbean. Businesses such as hotels, dive centers, fishing charters, restaurants and their employees rely on this tourism. If reefs and fish die in these areas, scuba divers will choose a different destination and sports fisherman will stop coming. This could result in an economic collapse of these areas who rely on the tourism-related revenue that sport fishing and scuba diving generates.
What is an Invasive Species?
An invasive species is an organism that causes ecological or economic harm to a new environment where it is not native. Invasive species can cause harm to natural resources in an ecosystem as well threaten human use of these resources. Invasive species are introduced to new areas via the ballast of water of ships, intentional and accidental releases of marine species, specimens or bait, as well as other means. Invasive species can cause the extinction of native plants and animals, reduce biodiversity, compete with native species for limited resources, and alter habits. Accordingly, this can result in significant economic impacts and disruption of entire ecosystems.
Are Lionfish an Invasive Species?
Lionfish are an incredibly invasive species. Invasive lionfish threaten native fish as well as the environment in U.S. Atlantic coastal waters. Due to the fact that lionfish are an invasive species, they have no natural predators. With a reproductive rate of 3 to even 4 times the rate of any other fish, an abundance of food, and the fact that they have no natural predators, the lionfish population has grown by 700% in some areas.
How Did Lionfish Get Into the Atlantic Ocean?
Just as little is known about what keeps lionfish in check in their native area, it is unknown precisely how lionfish found their way to the Atlantic Ocean. Some believe that lionfish were introduced into the Atlantic Ocean in the 1980s both by local aquariums and private owners. Others believe that lionfish, a popular ornamental aquarium fish, were released into the Atlantic Ocean when their owners no longer wanted them as pets. Yet others believe that lionfish might have escaped Florida’s waters in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew capsized many transport boats. After their release, the swift and warm Gulf Stream likely transported lionfish egg and larvae from Florida northward.
Where Are Lionfish Now?
Lionfish have now spread throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, South America and as far north as Massachusetts. In 2000, a recreational diver saw two tropical lionfish off the coast of North Carolina, nearly 140 feet below the surface. This diver alerted the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration which began tracking lionfish sightings in the Atlantic. Within two years, lionfish were seen in Florida, Georgia, Bermuda, and the Bahamas. Lionfish populations now span from Massachusetts to Brazil.
Can We Stop the Lionfish Invasion?
Most scientists agree that it is unlikely that we can reverse the lionfish invasion of U.S. waters. Any large-scale attempt to remove lionfish would be too costly and impractical because of the range and depths that this species now occupies. However, scientists do believe that we can control the spread of lionfish in certain areas. Nevertheless, scientists predict that lionfish will continue to increase in abundance if not controlled.
What Can You Do to Help Stop the Lionfish Invasion?
There are a number of ways that you can help stop the lionfish invasion. Here are a few examples of how you can help:
Learn More About the Dangers of Invasive Lionfish and Spread the Word
Educate your friends and family about the dangers of invasive lionfish. Although invasive lionfish is a serious problem in areas of the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico, a large portion of the population does not know! Additionally, there are many myths and misinformation regarding the biology and ecology of lionfish. Consider sharing posts containing pictures, factsheets and videos to your social media accounts to reach as many people as possible. Talk to your friends, family and colleagues about lionfish control and the ways they can help. If you are an educator, incorporate lessons about invasive species such as lionfish in your curriculum. Sadly, many people are unaware of the negative implications of the lionfish invasion and the ways that they can help solve the problem.
Support Nonprofits Trying to Help Control Lionfish
You can show your support of nonprofits and their efforts to help control the lionfish population in a number of ways. Consider donating your time to an organization that promotes public education and awareness of the lionfish problem. Targeting dive industries, medical and health industries, educational institutions and the media and providing them with outreach materials like posters and stickers is just one of many ways you can contribute. Likewise, your financial support of these organizations can provide adequate training and appropriate gear to fisherman and sport divers, and raise additional awareness. There is no donation that is too small to help the efforts of organizations committed to the elimination of invasive lionfish populations.
Participate in a Lionfish Derby
A lionfish derby is a single day competition to collect and remove as many lionfish as possible. Teams collect lionfish by netting or spearing lionfish while SCUBA diving, free diving, or snorkeling. Teams begin competing at sunrise and bring their catch to the scoring station by 5:00 p.m. Each fish is measured and prizes are awarded to teams for catching the most, biggest, and smallest lionfish. Research studies show that lionfish derbies are highly effective in lowering the lionfish populations of certain areas. Over the past ten years, the lionfish derbies hosted by the Reef Environmental Education Foundation was responsible for the removal of 24,522 lionfish. Moreover, these derbies promote research, education of the safe handling of lionfish, as well as offer the opportunity for the public to try free tastings of lionfish. If you live in a coastal area, research whether lionfish derbies are held nearby. If none exist in your area, consider researching and hosting your own lionfish derby!
Encourage Local Restaurants to Add Lionfish to the Menu
Encourage the consumption of lionfish in local restaurants by calling establishments in your area to see if they have lionfish on their menu. Chefs throughout the country are finding ways to incorporate the invasive species into their seafood recipes. Local restaurants could benefit from promoting the ecological benefits of eating lionfish with their patrons. The greater the demand for lionfish the more divers will go out and collect them, thus reducing the population and saving our reefs!
Eat More Lionfish!
Another way to help is to eat more lionfish! Local dive shops throughout Florida host lionfish derbies and lionfish removal days, where they show you how to catch, clean and cook your own lionfish. There a number of delicious recipes online to assist you in how to prepare lionfish. Even if you live offshore, you can request lionfish from your local grocery store. Do your part by cooking and eating this flaky, white, delicious fish!
Start Your Own Fundraiser to Promote Lionfish Control
Raise money for a specific cause. Consider starting your own fundraiser to help us and other organizations fight against invasive lionfish that pose a significant threat to ocean-life. There are a number of organizations that could benefit from a donation, big or small. We can help you organize it.
Tell Everyone The Lionfish Invasion Matters To You
Be vocal about the lionfish invasion and that it matters to you. Ask to be involved in developing and implementing programs to prevent the spread of invasive lionfish. Additionally, help us build new and expand existing partnerships between agencies, private sector and other businesses. These partnerships could drastically improve prevention objectives through coordination and collaboration and thus reduce duplicative efforts and help conserve funds. Furthermore, research and voice your concerns about any hurdles that stand in the way of control efforts. Speak up about why invasive lionfish are a problem in your area!
Adopt a Dive Team or a Reef
There are several ways you can adopt a dive team or a reef – both online and through local organizations. By adopting a coral reef, you contribute directly to the preservation of the reef and the marine ecosystems which depend on them, including you! We can assist you!