A lot of articles on this issue are either, “KILL EM ALL!” or “Never hurt anything, even Ebola is sacred!” So I thought a more balanced approach was needed when looking at the Lionfish issue.
Lionfish (Pterois) are a fish native to the Indo-Pacific Ocean. In their own habitat they aren’t a problem and their numbers remain relatively static. This means that if you’re diving in the Indo-Pacific Ocean and you are hearing stories about Lionfish numbers, it doesn’t apply to your location. Lionfish can be quite aggressive but they are supposed to be in the Indo-Pacific Ocean, and nothing needs to be done about them there. Swim on by and giving them a ‘thumbs-up’, they are doing no harm…there.
Unfortunately Lionfish have now been artificially introduced to areas where they aren’t native. This includes the East Coast of the US, the Caribbean Sea, the Bahamas, Granada, and the Mediterranean Sea.
There is still a lot of debate regarding what keeps the Lionfish population in check in the Indo-Pacific Ocean. Whatever it is, it isn’t doing the job elsewhere. In other locations the Lionfish breeds at an exponential rate, and to hold the numbers in check we would need to kill 27% of their population per year. It is believed the initial introduction of the fish was due to people dumping their aquariums in the ocean, as they didn’t know what to do with them. How horribly predictable!
They have no natural predators outside of the Indo-Pacific Ocean, so their population explodes. They are aggressive and are thought to reduce reef diversity by up to 80%. In one case a single Lionfish reduced juvenile fish diversity by 79% in a reef.
As mentioned above, their population can increase by 27% in a single year. They destroy reef systems and are a plague in areas where they aren’t native. So what can we do to protect the reefs?
The options are limited. They include killing Lionfish in any waters they aren’t native…and that’s the only good option there is. Some people are trying to train sharks to eat Lionfish, but we already have one problem, messing with sharks feeding habits only creates a second issue. Sharks are supposed to eat what sharks currently eat, and we also don’t want to associate humans with food.
The best way to deal with this invasive species is to directly kill them. We are the ones there, the shark plan hasn’t proved viable, and nothing removes a species as reliably as killing it whenever we encounter it. Sadly we have sent many species extinct this way in the past, but at least we know this method works.
With that said, it doesn’t mean I necessarily recommend you go spearfishing for Lionfish.
Lionfish have venomous spines and if you don’t handle them correctly you could get badly hurt. Spearfishing is also dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing. On top of this some people simply don’t like killing things regardless of the reasoning.
That’s why I only recommend you go spearfishing for Lionfish if you live in an area where they are a problem, you think you are able, if you already know how to spearfish or can learn, and know how to handle Lionfish.
It’s worth noting you do get something out of it other than just helping reef diversity, as Lionfish are quite tasty. Just be careful you learn how to handle and clean them, first.
Here is a great video showing you how to clean and cook them.
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Colin is an inventor, author, guitar player, amateur scientist and steampunk enthusiast. During his years as a ships navigator his luck was so consistently bad that he was briefly known as 'Jonah', presumed cursed, and subsequently barred from setting foot on any boat docked in Ireland. Due to his misadventures he spent more time underwater than most divers will achieve in a lifetime. Not deliberately, but he was still down there!