Lionfish: Cayman Islands allows hunting to protect marine environment: Part 2

Posted on March 12th 2014
Lionfish are considered an invasive species in the Caribbean and the Cayman Islands has taken to hunting them in an attempt to protect its rich marine environment.
 
Yesterday we told what was being done to tackle the invasion. Here's the rest of the story.
 
No one knows for sure how the species entered the Atlantic, however the most accepted theory is of an accidental or intentional release of aquarium fish into the marine environment about 15 years ago.
 
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, based in Washington DC, said the aggressive ambush hunter had now spread along the eastern seaboard of America and throughout the Caribbean. It has established itself as the top predator in many coral reef environments, picking off reef fish and crustaceans not yet evolved to fear them. In Little Cayman, conservationists noted lionfish were preying on juvenile Nassau Grouper, a species already critically endangered from overfishing. 
 
Bradley Johnson, research officer with the Cayman Islands’ Department of Environment, said the control and removal of the lionfish was critical to the balance of its marine ecosystem if it was to avoid the damaging effects seen in other parts of the Caribbean.
 
“Eradication is not possible,” he said. “The aim of our control program is to remove as many lionfish as possible to reduce the pressure on local species that are preyed upon and, in turn, buy time for a natural control to develop.
 
“We see very few lionfish on sites that are culled consistently, but on sites that don’t get many divers we find many more and much larger lionfish. We need to extend that consistent control effort to more sites."
 
As a result, politicians in the islands' national assembly have now passed an advisory proposal offering a $5 bounty on each speared fish. Such a move may need the ratification of the UK Government before it becomes law.
 
Dive guide Rhys Woon, 26, one of 300 divers with the Government-issued licence to kill, said he had seen change in fish behaviour since he joined the hunt last year.
 
“Whenever I jump in, the red snapper are there waiting for us and they follow us. The snapper will not attack lionfish when they are alive but once I have caught one, they will fight each other to take it right off the spear.
 
“They also appear to be helping us to hunt out the lionfish. If I spot them gathered around a particular outcrop I am almost certain to find a lionfish hiding in there,” he said.
 
“As a dive guide, I would much rather point out spectacular fish out to tourists. However, we have to take action against lionfish for the future of the coral reef system.”
 
Top image of lionfish dish: Credit Pascal Pernix, Camana Bay
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