Be Like Mike.
More needed up north. See excerpt:
"Keep in mind they're a tropical fish so they don't do real well in cold water closer to shore," said Mel Bell, Director of the Office of Fisheries Management for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. "They obviously do well enough in our offshore waters during the winter to live year-round."
Bell has heard of lionfish observed by divers in about 60 feet of water off the South Carolina coast, but the species likely retreats to deeper reef areas closer to the Gulf Stream when the water temperature cools in autumn.
The species is striking to observe, characterized by long, flowing fins with the dorsal creating the mane of the lionfish. According to NOAA, the fish's dorsal, anal and pelvic spines can deliver an extremely painful sting, which can cause headaches, vomiting and respiratory distress but is not considered to be lethal to humans.
With such a defense mechanism, very few predators want to mess with the lionfish. Even man wants to look but not touch.
There are many problems associated with the presence of lionfish on South Atlantic reefs, which they now inhabit from North Carolina to Florida.
They reproduce quickly, compete with native species for food, eat the juveniles of native species and have few natural enemies.
Lionfish have reportedly been found in the stomach of some grouper species and NOAA scientist Paula Whitfield has theorized that sand tiger sharks are a possible predator of lionfish.
But, as Sebastian has observed over nearly the last decade, it appears the species is left to proliferate at its own pace unless man intervenes.
"[Marine biologists have] noticed they're eating a lot of small fish and crustaceans, basically the same food our normal resident fish eat," Bell said. "So you've added a competitor in there for food. They're basically voracious little predators and will gobble up about anything they can get their hands on. Another problem is they are eating small reef species. We've found small black sea bass [in their stomachs] so they could actually be feeding on species that are important to us."
The NOAA, which is well-versed in protecting marine species of fish, has established and is promoting a campaign intended to eradicate the species in order to protect native snapper and grouper.
The NOAA instigated the Eat Lionfish campaign earlier this year and in a release on the issue states the campaign is "a way to make the public aware of this growing threat and invite them to be part of the strategy to combat it and enjoy a tasty fish at the same time."
A study done cooperatively by scientists from the NOAA and N.C. State University recommends that approximately 27 percent of mature lionfish need to be removed monthly for one year to reduce its population growth rate to zero. The study can be found in the June 2010 issue of Biological Invasions.
Harvesting the species from shallower, more tropical reefs such as the Florida Keys and the Bahamas may be feasible, but Sebastian isn't sure the prospect of harvesting lionfish from depths of 100 feet or more off the Carolinas coast is feasible. Although the lionfish is reportedly similar in texture and taste to the same native snapper and grouper species it threatens, who really wants to risk spearing, handling and filleting one?
"How much is it going to bring per pound?" Sebastian asked. "Is it worth a minimal financial gain to risk getting stung? The body is about the same size as a black sea bass, so I don't how much the exact yield of meat would be.
"Killing them is a little more challenging here in our depths. Down there in shallow water they can shoot one and bring it back up to the boat. Here you would have to shoot it, contain it and bring it back up."
Bell compared the establishment of lionfish on local offshore reefs to other non-native pests that have arrived over the years in the Southeast.
"What do we do about it?" Bell queried. "We monitor it. Just like any invasive species you can't eliminate it. Like fire ants or kudzu, once a species gets established like that it's hard to do too much about it.
"Total eradication is probably not going to happen."