Belize Marine authorities are waging an all-out war against the dreaded Lionfish, which has invaded Belizean waters. Since late last year when this voracious predator was discovered in Belize waters, more than 400 have been caught and destroyed.
Still a vigorous campaign is in effect today to rid the Caribbean of Lion fish (genera pterois) before it does serious damage to commercial fisheries.
ECOMAR, an initiative launched in the U.K. to study ecosystems of the mid-Atlantic Ridge, has begun a collaborative work with the Belize Fisheries Department to raise awareness of the problems caused by the lionfish running amuck on the Belize Barrier Reef ecosystem. And now there is a fully functional Belize Lionfish Project involving the Belize Fisheries Department, all the fishing cooperatives, tour guide associations, NGO with an interest in marine life and other members of the National Coral Reef Monitoring Network.
The Belize Lionfish Project now has a project coordinator, Mr .Jeffrey Joseph, and has received funding from the United Nations Development Project (UNDP).
Its plan is to educate stake-holders on how they can become involved in protecting the fisheries resources of Belize from the depredations of one of the most poisonous creatures of the ocean.
It is believed that lionfish were introduced into Caribbean waters after a hurricane destroyed an acquarium in South Florida where they were being kept.
Lionfish are native to Indo-pacific region, but they have spread to many other areas of ocean.
In Belize the lionfish Project has already announced a series of monthly tournaments with the sole purpose of capturing lionfish.
The first such tournament has already been held, and the winners announced. Cash prizes are being offered and the grandest cash prize will be offered on December 15, 2010.
So far Denton Bernard of Turneffe Island is leading the competition with 100 lionfish to his credit. Jesus Peña of Glovers Reef is second with 70.
Reducing the population of lionfish in Belize waters is a must, a spokesman of the project declared.
The Belize Lionfish Project will also conduct 12 outreach workshops in coastal communities to tell people more about the lionfish, how to handle them without being stung and how to cook them for a meal.
In February this year fishermen from Belize journeyed to the Bahamas for a workshop on lionfish handling and preparation.
They included men from Northern Fishermen Producers Cooperative, National Fishermen Producers Cooperative, Placencia Fishermen Producers Cooperative, the Rio Grande Fishermen Producers Cooperative, and from the Coral Reef alliance of Belize, the Marine Protected Areas, from Ecomar and the Coral Reef Alliance.
Lionfish are highly venomous with toxins in their top and bottom fins where needle-like spines are located.
If you puncture your skin with one of these sharp spines, severe pain lasting up to 24 hours may result.
If you ever see a lionfish and want to capture it, by all means avoid direct contact with the fish by using special gloves. If you capture a lionfish place it in a bucket and store in a freezer or let it dry out in the sun until you can turn it in to one of the collection points. Once the fish has been stored the venom will not cause pain.
If you ever get pricked by a lionfish barb, check for any obvious piece of spine left in the wound and remove it. Apply heat to the wound to prevent the venom from spreading.
Hot water, as hot as you can bear, should be applied directly to the wound for 15 to 20 minutes. An instant heat pack will also help with the pain. Repeat the heat treatment if pain returns.
Lionfish venom contains proteins that are denatured by heat, thus preventing them from spreading in the bloodstream. Since the venom is painful, over-the counter painkillers should also be taken for additional relief.
The Belize Lionfish Project has established a hotline at 223-3022. If you want to report a sighting or just to find out more about the program, call that number.
If you ever catch a lionfish, call the hotline. You will need to say where you caught the fish and when.