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November 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 28, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Good News about Lionfish Culling in the Caribbean

from the November, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Undercurrent subscriber Russ Knapp (St. George Island, FL) just returned from Grand Turk and reports that the native fish population is the healthiest he has seen it in years, thanks to several years of divers spearing lionfish there. "Groupers have been eating the speared ones," he says. "However, if you go outside the park where they aren't being culled, lionfish are everywhere."

Knapp's commentary seems to be backed up by science. Two years of field studies at Little Cayman shows that lionfish hunters are having a dramatic impact in protecting reef fish from the voracious predators. Researchers from the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI) found that dive sites, between 50 and 90 feet deep, where lionfish were systematically culled had 70 percent more native fish compared to nearby sites where lionfish populations weren't touched. A previous study the CCMI did with the University of Florida also showed that lionfish density was consistently lower on sites where cullers were active.

Final results from the ongoing research project, will be published in a scientific journal at a future date, but the initial findings add weight to the thought that removal of lionfish by divers is the most effective way to control lionfish in specific areas. So far, researchers haven't found any evidence that marine predators like groupers could learn to feed on lionfish.

Even with the successful program, the Cayman Islands Department of Environment said it is not issuing new spears to divers until it has reviewed the current volunteer culling program. Department spokesman Bradley told the Caymanian Compass that while the effectiveness of culling was not in question, the department wanted to "pause and review" before expanding any further. Whatever that means.

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