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September 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 31, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Invasive Lionfish Encounter Top Predator

from the September, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Lionfish have already unleashed their fury on ecosystems in the Atlantic and Caribbean and despite all efforts to eradicate this non-endemic species, they continue to thrive.

Staff at dive resorts work hard, hunting them down. One man has removed more than 700 lionfish from Florida's waters in the first two months since May. David Garrett of Ormond Beach has risen to the top of the ranks since the Florida Wildlife Commission implemented the Lionfish Challenge. At the time of writing 42 divers had removed more than 6,300 fish. Garrett has established a non-profit Lionfish Eliminators to help raise money to pay fishermen to remove the harmful fish.

Elsewhere, divers keeping less precise score-sheets reckon they've removed a lot more than that from dive sites. For example, in Caribbean Grenada, Peter Seupel of Aquanauts reckons his total count alone is nearer 7000!

A brighter note is that the fillets of this otherwise venomous fish are very tasty and proving a popular choice at Caribbean meal tables.

However these beautiful, highly venomous predators are now set to tear the Mediterranean apart. In a paper published in Marine Biodiversity Records, researchers report that lionfish have colonized the shoreline of one eastern Mediterranean island in just a single year.

"Until now, few sightings of the alien lionfish Pterois miles have been reported in the Mediterranean, and it was questionable whether the species could invade this region like it has in the [sub-tropical] western Atlantic." Demetris Kletou, co-author of the paper, said: "But we've found that lionfish have recently increased in abundance, and within a year have colonized almost the entire southeastern coast of Cyprus, assisted by sea surface warming."

How has this happened? Well, those aquarium owners who might have set the lionfish free in the '80s in the U.S. are not to blame. Apparently, the expansion of the Suez Canal has given the fish access to the Mediterranean, and warming sea temperatures have provided the acceptable environment for them -- yet another downside of climate change. There are no known predators of lionfish in the Med, so let's hope they become a popular part of the famous Cypriot meza, that meal consisting of endless small plates of tidbits, mainly seafood.

Lionfish

That's what Edible Invaders, a small business in Florida, is trying to convince American consumers to do. The three-year-old company is located in Pensacola, a popular waterfront getaway on the Florida Panhandle whose reefs have been overrun by lionfish in recent years.

Clara Proctor, Edible Invader's day-to-day operations manager admits that it's a challenge to get local residents to eat sustainably. "We make it easy," she says. "Preparation is not going to involve the consumer in any way: We harvest the fish. We make something ready to eat. We put it in the grocery store. All you have to do is open a lid, and you're part of the solution."

"I don't foresee lionfish ever being out of our waters," Proctor says, but she believes that by eating lionfish and its products, the population can be controlled, cleaning the waters of a dangerous predator.

-- John Bantin

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