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#445069 - 08/24/12 12:33 PM Scourge of the Lionfish
Marty Offline

About 20 years ago, one of the world’s most beautiful and otherworldly fish, the red lionfish, started showing up in south Florida and the Caribbean. Now, they’re a plague. Millions of them live from northeastern South America to New York, from water you can stand in down to depths of a thousand feet.

In a world where the main concern about fish is overfishing, and the main demand on fish is to feed an increasingly hungry human-dominated world, it may see odd to complain about abundance. But theirs is an abundance that produces widespread scarcity. That’s because invaders from afar often crowd out or gobble a wide array of desirable natives. And as an invading saltwater fish — the lion is king.

Lionfish are native to the west Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Red Sea; they’re quilled with venomous spines. The sting is not fatal, but from the descriptions I’ve heard of the pain, victims might wish it were. (Yesterday while working underwater with a scientist I got barely nicked through a glove; it produced an immediate sensation and a bump).

Lionfish are here in the Atlantic, it seems, because of owners of living room aquariums who tired of the upkeep but didn’t want to kill their fish. With compassion in their breasts, they released them, in numbers sufficient to get them established. Then—remember the phrase, “balance of nature?” Well…

No native fish in the Atlantic looks like the lionfish, hunts like it, or stings like it. Result: No native fish in the Atlantic recognizes it as a predator. No native fish in the Atlantic gets alarmed when lionfish are on the “hunt,” because a hunting lionfish looks like a drifting piece of seaweed. And no native predator — sharks, say, or barracuda — wants anything to do with those venomous spines.

And so, as I said, there are millions of them. The problem: they’ll eat anything in sight. Forty-plus kinds of native fishes have been found in their bellies, including young snappers and groupers and others of commercial, ecological and culinary value. They eat juvenile surgeonfishes and parrotfishes that, crucially, graze algae off of reefs and make it possible for baby corals to get established and grow.

Atlantic coral reefs are in a world of hurt as is. The most formerly abundant corals have collapsed throughout the Caribbean, thanks to new diseases, pollution, silt, overfishing, over-warming, and acidifying seawater. (The same combustion-produced carbon dioxide that causes climate warming dissolves in seawater to form carbonic acid, hampering growth of corals and edible shellfish.)

As corals die, seaweed takes over. Where seaweed takes over, baby corals can’t grow. One of the only hopes for the reefs is the recovery of fishes — especially parrotfishes — that graze-off the seaweed that is smothering many reefs. Reefs can’t afford a new predator that has no predators and that eats all the babies of the fish that graze. They can’t afford lionfish.

We’ve come to the Cape Eleuthera Institute in the Bahamas, where Professor Mark Hixon of Oregon State University is studying the effects that lionfish have on native reef fishes. On our first dive, on a patch of reef a mere 50-feet across, we counted 21 lionfish — and very few of the fish that lionfish eat.

On reefs where Hixon’s students are removing lionfish — more fish of various kinds seem to be surviving.

Hixon is finding that if you want to get rid of lionfish, you basically have to remove them one-by one. People who like their reefs are, in fact, organizing groups of spear-fishing divers to do just that. Other people are trying to commercialize lionfish, hoping to make them the next big flash in the pan. Over the next few days, in the course of filming an episode for an upcoming PBS television series called “Saving the Ocean,” we’ll be seeing the lionfish’s human adversaries in action.

Will they send lionfish the way of cod, tuna, groupers, snappers and other overfished ocean wildlife? For now, after 20 years of working against overfishing, I’m betting on the power of fishing people to deplete their targeted prey.

If you can’t beat ‘em — join me in a couple of days for my next post from a lionfish spearfishing derby in Florida.

by Carl Safina

Carl Safina is founder of Blue Ocean Institute at Stony Brook University and a MacArthur Fellow. His books include “A Sea in Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Blowout,” and “The View From Lazy Point; A Natural Year in an Unnatural World,” which won the 2012 Orion Award. His series “Saving the Ocean” will be premiering this fall on PBS television.

Mr. Safina also has a reputation as a super fisherman. Here’s a guest post by him about an invasive species that threatens the Atlantic.

NYTimes


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#449220 - 10/20/12 12:38 PM Re: Scourge of the Lionfish [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Lionfish hunting in Belize

Sinking slowly through Belize’s turquoise sea, Giovanni Gonzalez has murder on his mind. The dive guide scans the reef, his dreadlocks moving like a sea creature. I see only the usual confetti of tropical fish, but I can tell that Gio has spotted a lionfish tucked into the coral.

He readies his spear, takes aim and fires. The impaled fish materializes in a cloud of silt, thrashing to free itself — or at least sink a poison-barbed fin into someone’s skin. No fool, Gio pulls out a pair of scissors and disarms the fish by snipping off its spiky fins. A squeamish vegetarian, I turn away and watch the fins drift like feathers toward the ocean floor.

Gio is clearly having a lot of fun, but he’s also ridding the reef of a dangerous invader. Native to the Indian and Pacific oceans, lionfish were released into the Atlantic in the 1980s — most likely by Florida aquarium owners who tired of feeding the voracious creatures. Since then, these orange-and red-striped devils have colonized coastal waters from Rhode Island to South America, devastating local fish populations wherever they go.

In Belize, they’re making a meal of the tropical fish that tourists like me fly hundreds of miles to see. So, to protect the marine ecosystem and their own livelihoods, fishermen and dive professionals began hunting lionfish in 2002, Gio tells me once we’re back on the boat. “There was a bounty then,” he says. “Fifty dollars a fish.” Even with a price on their heads, the lionfish continued their invasion. “We need tourists to spear lionfish, and we really need people to start eating them,” Gio says.

When I’d booked my ticket to Belize, hunting and eating poisonous fish hadn’t been on the top of my to-do list. My plan was to laze around on a quiet beach with a frozen drink and take a leisurely look at the undersea scenery. Topside in Belize, I found plenty of laid-back charm. But beneath the ocean’s surface, I discovered a world of fearsome creatures engaged in a fierce battle for survival — and I got pulled into the melee myself.

Swimming with sharks

My home base for the week, Placencia, is a charming fishing village three hours from the capital, Belize City. Soon after arriving, my travel companion and I discover that the town’s real main street isn’t the recently paved road, but a narrow sidewalk that sets off near the public beach, wanders past sparsely populated cafes, and barges right through people’s back yards. In the afternoon heat, we see only a smattering of sunburned tourists on the sidewalk, but as the sun sets, the town’s melange of residents gathers to loiter and gossip.

After failed attempts at eavesdropping — most Placencians speak Kriol, a musical mix of English, West African and Native American languages — we gravitate to the friendly buzz at the Barefoot Bar, a brightly painted pavilion where several patrons are, in fact, barefoot, and at least one appears to be sharing a drink with his pet iguana.

After a long day of traveling, I want to spend the next day exploring no farther than the 10 feet between my beach bungalow and the sea. Fate, however, has other plans. Whale sharks are migrating down the coast, and we can’t miss the opportunity to see the biggest fish in the sea.

Though these behemoths can grow to 40 feet long, they strike terror only in the hearts of the krill and the other tiny ocean creatures they capture in their gaping maws. So tourists flock to Placencia every spring to swim with them, and we just happen to be in the right place at the right time.

Or so I’m told. After an early wake-up call followed by a half-hour of diving in open ocean, our only company is a sortie of snorkelers getting knocked around by waves at the surface.

I climb back on the boat, disappointed. But just as I peel off my wetsuit, someone starts shouting. “Get in the water! Get in the water now!”

I grab my fins and someone else’s mask, jump off the side of the boat and almost land on a whale shark the size of a school bus. His dappled gray back is just inches from my nose, and I can see that the spots, which I expected to be white, are actually a delicate pale yellow. Definitely worth the sleep deprivation, I think, as the shark returns to the inky depths.

The opportunity to swim with whale sharks may become increasingly rare, as overfishing in Asia landed them on the World Conservation Union’s “vulnerable” to extinction list in 2000. Human competition for snapper and other game fish, which the whale sharks eat as spawn, may further deplete the sharks’ numbers, scientists say.

If humans can start using our appetite for seafood for good, by avoiding overfished species and eating invasive ones, we can help whale sharks and the other colorful reef fish that make Belize diving such a spectacular experience. So when Gio invites me to join him on a lionfish hunt, I say yes.

‘The lion slayer’

It’s my third day in Belize, and I’m speeding toward a lionfish stronghold called South Water Caye. I woke up early, set on spearing a lionfish and saving thousands of juvenile reef fish from untimely deaths, but my lionfish-hunting resolve wanes as Gio shows me his scars.

“Here’s where the spine went all the way through my hand,” Gio says, pointing to the slack skin between his thumb and forefinger. “I got stung twice here,” he adds, as he shows me a white mark on his knuckle.

While rarely fatal, lionfish stings are intensely painful. “It’s two hours of the worst pain I’ve ever felt,” Gio says.

I turn over the stumpy, blunt spear in my hands as Gio gives me further instruction. If you skewer a lionfish through the side, he might swim up the spear and stab your hand. “Try to hit them right between the eyes,” he says.

As I step off the dive boat, I consider my list of reasons for backing out of the lionfish hunt: poor vision, bad hand-eye coordination, a dislike of intense pain, an overdeveloped sense of empathy that keeps me from squishing even roaches. However, as a member of the most invasive species of all, I decide that it’s my duty to at least try to spear a lion.

The reef comes into view, and it’s not long before I spot my prey, his hiding place given away by a single feathery fin. Ready, aim, fire! The fish and I are equally surprised when I sink a spear right in the center of his zebra-striped head.

My courage tapped, I hand my spear to Gio, who removes the fish and adds it to a string. The day’s kills, about a half-dozen fish, trail behind us like a balloon as we swim toward the boat. We pass a pair of fairy basslets, one of the lionfish’s favorite snacks. “You’re welcome,” I tell them, telepathically.

Back at the dock, Gio cleans my fish, and I take it to the chef at my hotel. “Can you cook this?” I ask. It’s not uncommon for guests to bring their own fish to dinner, the cook says, but my lionfish is a first.

That night, other diners are intrigued by my special order. “What does it taste like?” asks a fellow diver. I take a nibble of the flaky, pale flesh and admit that I’ve been a vegetarian since age 6.

Since I have no idea what fish is supposed to taste like, I divvy up the fillet and share it with anyone who wants to try. “It’s good,” says a dark-haired woman at the bar. “It’s light, but it has some toothiness to it, like swordfish.”

For the remainder of my vacation, I do nothing braver than rescue a drowning drink-umbrella from the swimming pool. Still, whenever I venture into the hotel restaurant, diners and waiters hail me as “the lion slayer.”

If the critters ever show up in the Potomac, they’d better watch out. Forget about the fillets; I’m in it for the glory.

Washington Post


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#452592 - 12/03/12 01:59 PM Re: Scourge of the Lionfish [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

RELUCTANT HUNTER STALKS THE LIONFISH IN BELIZE

Tourists are encouraged to spear the invasive species that has devastated local fish populations. Sinking slowly through Belize’s turquoise sea, Giovanni Gonzalez has murder on his mind. The dive guide scans the reef, his dreadlocks moving like a sea creature. I see only the usual confetti of tropical fish, but I can tell that Gio has spotted a lionfish tucked into the coral.

He readies his spear, takes aim and fires. The impaled fish materializes in a cloud of silt, thrashing to free itself — or at least sink a poison-barbed fin into someone’s skin. No fool, Gio pulls out a pair of scissors and disarms the fish by snipping off its spiky fins.

Gio is clearly having a lot of fun, but he’s also ridding the reef of a dangerous invader. Native to the Indian and Pacific oceans, lionfish were released into the Atlantic in the 1980s — most likely by Florida aquarium owners who tired of feeding the voracious creatures. Since then, these orange-and red-striped devils have colonized coastal waters, devastating local fish populations wherever they go.

In Belize, they’re making a meal of the tropical fish that tourists like me fly hundreds of miles to see. So, to protect the marine ecosystem and their own livelihoods, fishermen and dive professionals began hunting lionfish in 2002, Gio tells me once we’re back on the boat. “There was a bounty then,” he says. “Fifty dollars a fish.”

“We need tourists to spear lionfish, and we really need people to start eating them,” Gio says.

When I’d booked my ticket to Belize, hunting and eating poisonous fish hadn’t been on the top of my to-do list. But beneath the ocean’s surface, I discovered a world of fearsome creatures engaged in a fierce battle for survival — and I got pulled into the melee myself.

My home base for the week, Placencia, is a charming fishing village three hours from the capital, Belize City. Soon after arriving, my travel companion and I discover that the town’s real main street isn’t the recently paved road, but a narrow sidewalk that sets off near the public beach, wanders past sparsely populated cafes, and barges right through people’s backyards. In the afternoon heat, we see only a smattering of sunburned tourists on the sidewalk, but as the sun sets, the town’s residents gather to loiter and gossip.

After a long day of traveling, I want to spend the next day exploring no farther than the 10 feet between my beach bungalow and the sea. Fate, however, has other plans. Whale sharks are migrating down the coast, and we can’t miss the opportunity to see the biggest fish in the sea.

Though these behemoths can grow to 40 feet long, they strike terror only in the hearts of the krill and the other tiny ocean creatures they capture in their gaping maws. So tourists flock to Placencia every spring to swim with them, and we just happen to be in the right place at the right time.

I grab my fins and mask, jump off the side of the boat and almost land on a whale shark the size of a school bus. His dappled gray back is just inches from my nose, and I can see that the spots, which I expected to be white, are actually a delicate pale yellow. Definitely worth the sleep deprivation, I think, as the shark returns to the inky depths.

Gio invites me to join him on a lionfish hunt, and I say yes. It’s my third day in Belize, and I’m speeding toward a lionfish stronghold called South Water Caye. As I step off the dive boat, I consider my list of reasons for backing out of the lionfish hunt: poor vision, bad hand-eye coordination, a dislike of intense pain, an overdeveloped sense of empathy that keeps me from squishing even roaches. However, as a member of the most invasive species of all, I decide that it’s my duty to at least try to spear a lion.

The reef comes into view, and it’s not long before I spot my prey, his hiding place given away by a single feathery fin. Ready, aim, fire! The fish and I are equally surprised when I sink a spear right in the center of his zebra-striped head.

Dingfelder is a travel, humor and science writer. Follow her on Twitter at @SadieDing.


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#456706 - 01/29/13 03:21 PM Re: Scourge of the Lionfish [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

LIONFISH SUNDAY BELIZE

Taking a bite out of Lionfish population on the Belize Barrier Reef with dive friends.Tranquility Bay, outside the reef. Ambergris Caye.

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#461384 - 04/01/13 02:13 PM Re: Scourge of the Lionfish [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Regarding the Lionfish Invasion

I wanted to share some of the recent information we have been finding regarding the lionfish invasion that is threatening to severely damage to our eco-system and sequentially our tourism and livelihood.

We are hosting another lionfish tournament in May and are hoping this information will inspire the people of San Pedro and the fishing and diving community of Belize to get on board with the efforts to help eradicate this escalating crisis.
Here are a list of facts that were pulled from THE REEF website. The Reef.Org is an organization of divers and marine enthusiasts committed to ocean conservation.

As you can surmise by the information presented below, we need to act and act now. We are asking the community to help us continue the fight with any donations for fuel for the fisherman and divers, for prizes to motivate people to participate in the tournament, and to begin to request restaurants add lionfish to their menu, creating a regular demand for the product.

Invasion history

• Two visually identical species of lionfish were introduced into the Atlantic via the US aquarium trade beginning in 1980’s

• Lionfish invaded range is North Carolina, USA to South America including the Gulf of Mexico

• Lionfish have established throughout most of the Caribbean in less than 3 years (first reports outside of the Bahamas in 2007)

Biology

• Lionfish may live longer than 15 years reaching sizes exceeding 47cm (~20 in.)

• Lionfish inhabit all marine habitat types and depths (shoreline to over 600’)

• Lionfish possess venomous spines capable of deterring predators and inflicting serious stings and reactions in humans

• Lionfish become sexually mature in less than 1-year and spawn in pairs

• In the Caribbean a single female lionfish can spawn over ~2 million eggs/year

• Reproduction occurs throughout the year about every 4 days

• Lionfish eggs are held together in a gelatinous mass and are dispersed at the ocean’s surface by currents, where their larval duration is ~26 days

Ecology

• Lionfish can reach densities over 200 adults per acre

• Lionfish are generalist carnivores that consume >56 species of fish and many invertebrate species, with prey up to half the lionfish’s body size

• Many lionfish prey are commercially, recreationally, or ecologically important fish

• Dense lionfish populations can consume more than 460,000 prey fish/acre/year

• On heavily invaded sites, lionfish have reduced their fish prey by up to 90% and continue to consume native fishes at unsustainable rates

• Native predators exhibit avoidance for lionfish

• Lionfish have very few parasites compared to native species

• Lionfish exhibit site fidelity

Control

• Lionfish are edible and considered a delicacy

• Local removal efforts can significantly reduce lionfish densities

Please help spread this information and join us in May to cheer on the contestants, learn how to fillet a lionfish and maybe even have a taste of the fish.

/s/ Noele McLain and the team at Wahoo’s Lounge

Resource: http://www.reef.org/reef_files/Lionfish%20quickfacts.pdf


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#461569 - 04/03/13 06:04 PM Re: Scourge of the Lionfish [Re: Marty]
pirate villas Offline
Pirates treasure restaurant and bar serves a 2011 award winning pina colada lion fish that is awesome plus we do lion fish fingers and lion fish fritters and other awesome lion fish recipes.......we do our part to help eliminate this fish from the reef.....come in and try some
_________________________
www.piratevillas.com

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#461570 - 04/03/13 06:24 PM Re: Scourge of the Lionfish [Re: Marty]
Diane Campbell Offline
Great Idea!

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#461580 - 04/03/13 08:06 PM Re: Scourge of the Lionfish [Re: Marty]
elbert Offline
I bought Epipens for the boats, I put them in the O2 cases. Just a little heads up on taking them off your spear once you have them they still sting just as bad when they are dead :-)
_________________________
The Dive Shops Daily Blog
http://scubalessonsbelize.blogspot.com/

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#461587 - 04/03/13 10:24 PM Re: Scourge of the Lionfish [Re: Marty]
robvee Offline
Good thinking Elbert but i thought all you needed was a pr of scissors to cut the spines off

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#461588 - 04/03/13 10:35 PM Re: Scourge of the Lionfish [Re: Marty]
Wizardofaahs Offline
Don't know if any of you watch "Shark Tank", the show where entrepreneurs make a presentation to 4 or 5 investors in the hopes of getting a large cash infusion from the investors in exchange for a percentage of the business.

Last Sunday's episode had two guys who were trying to get a substantial amount of money to set up an operation to harvest and import Lionfish into the US (not necessarily having to import since the Lionfish is found in the waters off the coast of Florida).

They had some cooked Lionfish on hand for the investors to try, they gave a decent rundown of how the invasion happened and why it is a growing problem, but they didn't convince the "sharks" to contribute anything to their cause.

I don't think they have nearly the information that you guys here on this board have about catching, cleaning, cooking and eating. I've learned so much! And, it seems like no one really has to convince the restaurants to serve this fish.

Keep up the good work!!
_________________________
Words have power. Speak it into existence.

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