Posted by: Jill | May 20, 2009

Eat the Invaders!

Invasive species* are a major threat to biodiversity in marine, freshwater, and terrestrial systems.  A lot of research on invasive fish has focused on freshwater systems, because a lake can be studied as a distinct unit.  In contrast, it’s very difficult to study (and control) invasive fish in the ocean because they can spread quickly over long distances.

This is the situation with lionfish, Pterois volitans, a lovely marine fish from the Pacific ocean that has been spreading rapidly along the Atlantic coast of the U.S. and into the northern Caribbean.  Lionfish are voracious top predators capable of greatly reducing native fish populations on coral reefs.  Their long (and venomous!) spines make them look totally bizarre to native Caribbean fish, so they’re not recognized as either predators or prey — meaning there is little predation pressure to slow the lionfish population growth.

In the past few decades, Caribbean reefs have faced pressure from destructive fishing methods, too much fishing, hurricanes, coral bleaching events, and a mysterious disease that killed almost all of the Diadema urchins that graze on algae to keep corals healthy.  Now, many Caribbean nations are working hard to restore their marine resources, but lionfish represent a significant new threat to coral reefs ecosystems.  How can invasive lionfish populations be reduced?

The Bahamas is taking a novel approach: Eat the Lionfish!

The Bahamian government and several NGO’s are encouraging fishermen to target lionfish.  They’re safe to eat after the spines are (carefully) removed, and sources say they’re quite tasty.

Very clever: make good use of our tendency to overexploit fish.  It’s a great way to reduce the lionfish population and simultaneously reduce fishing pressure on other declining fish species.

Lionfish

*”invasive” refers to a non-native species that has established a viable population and has a negative effect on the native ecosystem.

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