With immediate effect, there is a bounty on the head of the deceptively dangerous lionfish, which we recently reported had been sighted twice in Belizean waters, in December and January. The exotic, zebra-striped, Indo-Pacific fish is a matter of grave environmental and economic concern, because it is ill-reputed as a voracious feeder, capable of overtaking reef fish populations, and “spreading its wings” across coastlines in search of even more prey.

Today, environmentalist Jose “Pepe” Garcia visited our newspaper to announce that a $50 reward would be offered to anyone who can bring in a lionfish, dead or alive (and whole).

He said that while it is impossible to completely eradicate the fish, it is important for Belize to move to control the lionfish population by hunting them.

According to Garcia, funding for the initiative is being provided by his consultancy firm, Tunich-Nah Consultants & Engineering, alongside two developers, South Beach (Ambergris Caye) and Belcan Beach (based on Consejo, Corozal, and San Pedro).

Fisheries Administrator, Beverly Wade, explained, in speaking with our newspaper this afternoon, that the initiative will allow Belize to undertake a lionfish eradication program early – something which, she notes, countries like the Bahamas wish, in hindsight, that they had done. Today, the waters of the Bahamas are overrun by the exotic but ominous predator.

The reward program mirrors a more modest version recently initiated through the Fisheries Department; however, with limited funds provided by Sea Sports, the offer was only $10 a fish. No specimens had yet been received under that program.

Wade says that the new initiative would mean that there is more to put in a bigger reward pot, which would no doubt entice fishermen to hunt down the fish.

The lionfish in Belize may be one of two species, and it is important for the authorities to get specimens to identify which is living in our waters, she added.

Persons turning in specimens of the lionfish are expected to provide information such as the place where they were caught.

Fisheries Department will be identifying the fish and documenting information on its presence in Belize.

Wade encourages persons who manage to nab any specimen of the lionfish from Belize’s waters to take them to the Department in Belize City, any of their reserve stations, or to the landing stations where fish are normally taken for wider distribution.