Lionfish decreasing


Lionfish decreasing

Story published by the Jamaican Observer

NEARLY four years after starting a campaign to control the  lionfish population in Jamaican waters, local marine biologists are reporting a  reduction in the numbers of the invasive and venomous species.

The species is believed to have entered Caribbean waters from a  protected environment in the United States after a natural disaster in 1992. By  2006, experts say, they could be found on almost every reef in Jamaica. Their  population can be as high as 250 lionfish/hectare — a situation which has been  threatening smaller marine fish, shrimp, crabs, and other crustaceans on which  they prey, the livelihood of fisherfolk, the island’s fish exports, and humans  as well as the lionfish’s stings are poisonous.

But over the course of the past year, targeted removal strategies  have seen the population in frequently visited areas down to  about 80  lionfish/hectare in some areas.

“In-water monitoring has shown a reduction in the numbers of  lionfish at key locations around the island. We have also seen good results from  the catch data from the fishermen, as they have reported a reduction in the  lionfish catch,” said Dr Dayne Buddo of the University of the West Indies’  Discovery Bay Marine Lab (UWI-DBML).

Buddo and his team recently took their campaign — The National  Lionfish Project —  to Negril and conducted a management training session and  removal dive at Sandals Negril Beach Resort and Spa.

Among the areas covered were the features of the lionfish, ways of  handling it safely and how to treat an injury inflicted by it. The dive itself  focused on ways to safely capture the lionfish and remove the poisonous fins  using proper gloves                 and shears.

“We removed over 20 lionfish from waters surrounding Negril and  this is a huge achievement for our first dive,” said Sandals Negril’s  Watersports Manager Audley Birthwright.

That was significant, Buddo said, “because two years ago the same  dive would have come up with 40 or 50 lionfish. That, in itself, shows                      a reduction.”

“Removing 20 lionfish on a single dive equates to saving  approximately 300,000 juvenile fish over a one-year period,” he remarked,  pointing out that one lionfish is capable of eating 20 juvenile fish in one  feeding event, and they normally feed twice per day.

Buddo told Environment Watch that though the numbers are falling,  it is too early to tell if it has been having any impact on our native fish.

“We won’t see the positives just yet… but the long-term  implication is that our native fish will get the opportunity to grow to maturity  and reproduce. It has implications for our fisheries too because the lionfish  does eat our snappers, our  small groupers, surgeonfishes, grunts, parrotfishes,  jacks, and other species both commercially and ecologically important to the  Jamaican fisheries sector,”           he said.

The marine biologist said the fall off in the numbers was a direct  result of the intensification of removal strategies and the public education  campaign encouraging fishermen and the wider population to catch, sell and eat  lionfish.

Despite the success to date, however, Buddo is warning against  complacency as the species is resilient and if sufficient pressure isn’t applied  to keep it in check, it will rebound.

With the training, the Sandals employees are planning to train others in the Negril community.

“What we want to do is to help raise awareness. In so doing, we  will be supporting the efforts of the National Lionfish Project by going out  into the communities and helping to train persons on safe handling techniques  and educating them on the role they too can play in lessening the lionfish  population,” said Sandals Negril’s Environment, Health and Safety Manager,  Denisha Powell.

The National Lionfish Project is part of a larger regional project  — Mitigating the Threat of Invasive Alien Species in the Insular Caribbean  (MTIASIC) — financed by the Global Environment Facility and the United Nations  Environment Programme (UNEP). It seeks to strengthen partnerships among  government and non-governmental agencies in Jamaica, as well as to promote  regional cooperation. Locally, the project — which is to end in July — is led  by the National Environment and Planning Agency and the UWI-DBML.

Other partners in the drive to control lionfish include the  Sandals Foundation, Sandals Resorts International, Scotiabank Foundation, Food  for the Poor, GEF Small Grants Programme, Montego Bay Marine Park Trust, and the  Government of Jamaica, and many other NGOs, including fishermen cooperatives.

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