Their numbers continue to expand. They are spreading throughout the Caribbean Sea. Eradication appears almost impossible. It is very difficult to control them and right now the best available plan is to capture and eat them.
“This is a new and voracious predator on these coral reefs and it’s undergoing a population explosion,” said Mark Hixon, an OSU professor of zoology, expert on coral reef ecology and leader of the research effort. “The threats to coral reefs all over the world were already extreme, and they now have to deal with this alien predator in the Atlantic. Lionfish eat many other species and they seem to eat constantly.”
“Native fish literally don’t know what hit them.” OSU research has already determined that within a short period after the entry of lionfish into an area, the survival of small reef fishes is slashed by about 80 percent.
Lionfish have virtually no natural enemies in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. Whatever is keeping them in check in the Pacific – and scientists are trying to find out what that is – is missing here. In the Caribbean, they are found at different depths, in various terrains. They are ignored by local predators and parasites and they eat very fast their way through entire ecosystems.
A primary concern, according to local experts, is the degradation of coral reefs and loss of food fish and colourful tropical species. Tourism, fishing and diving will suffer in some economies that are largely based on these fish. One group has called lionfish a plague of Biblical proportions.
Until we can develop a better understanding of this invasion, one of the few control mechanisms may be to develop a market for them as a food fish. Lionfish are pretty easy to catch, taste good and could be advertised as a conservation dish.
Lionfish, native to the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans, have dramatic colouring and large, spiny fins. It’s believed they were first introduced into marine waters off Florida during Hurricane Andrew in the early 1990s from a collapsed Oceanside aquarium in the Miami area. More significantly, a large casino in the Bahamas with an outdoor reef lagoon display open to the sea is also suspected of having allowed large numbers of lionfish eggs or larvae to wash into the tropical western Atlantic. They have since spread across much of the Caribbean Sea.