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Lionfish Invasion of Florida

November 7, 2011

One of the coolest-looking fish you’ll find in the ocean, Pterois volitans or more commonly known as the lionfish has been causing mucho problemas up the U.S. Atlantic coast all the way down to South America, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. First sightings of the lionfish appearing in the Caribbean were around 4-5 years ago, and their populations have since then boomed.

How were they introduced in the first place? The lionfish were introduced as a result of the aquarium trade in the United States just about a few decades ago. Nobody knows exactly how they were released, intentionally or unintentionally, but it happened sometime in the 1980s. From the very few that were originally released, now hundreds of thousands of lionfish now devastate the waters of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic. Their populations explode at extreme rates due to their ability to inhabit any marine habitat, and the ability of female lionfish to produce about 2 million eggs in a single year.

What damage is being done? The lionfish are vicious carnivores, eating anything that is less than half their size. In places where new populations have been established, the number of prey species (littler fish) have declined up to 90%! They are also highly aggressive and have poisonous spines that may inflict serious harm to humans. If you happen to be swimming or diving and see one of these guys, steer clear! But their aggressiveness and venomous barbs aren’t only harmful to humans. Natural predators in these areas such as sharks, larger fish, etc. avoid these buggers at all costs, which is part of the reason their populations have grown to huge numbers.

Here’s a PDF from www.reef.org that explains more about lionfish biology and ecology.

What is being done? The problem has become so widespread that there is hardly anything that can be done. Local divers and fishermen are being encouraged to get involved in the catching and removal of these fish, a dangerous task. On the plus side, lionfish is considered a delicacy and several local restaurants have been increasing the presence of lionfish on their dinner menus in the Bahamas. This movement has also spiked a national “Eat Lionfish” campaign sponsored by NOAA, because hey… “If you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em!”

Check out NOAA’s “Filleting the Lion” campaign website here.

Washington Post Article: “Lionfish invade the Gulf… and the dinner table”

Here’s a list of delicious ways you can cook lionfish!

This is a perfectly good example (depending on how the lionfish is caught, though) of sustainable seafood. Now I wouldn’t mind trying some of that!

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