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The Lionfish, an invader on the Atlantic northwest coast

by Scubacrowd - 04/02/2014

The Lionfish, an invader on the Atlantic northwest coast

We all love how it looks, but the Lionfish has become an unwanted guest in the Western Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico, due to invasive introduction.

The Pterois or lionfish is a marine fish originally from the Indo Pacific Ocean. Pterois is classified into several species, and is typically seen in aquariums, due to its unique beauty. Stunningly ornate with colorful body and tentacles, it is also known for its venomous spines. Though very rarely deadly for humans, lionfish venom can inflict severe pain and sickness, including nausea and vomiting.

North Atlantic Invasion

Two species of Pterois, have established themselves very successfully on the east Coast of the United States and Caribbean. It is believed they were first introduced in Florida during the mid eighties, possibly by dissatisfied aquarium owners. Apparently only a handful of them could have sufficed to inbred for a while and spread across the Atlantic coastline. Thirty years later, populations of lionfish continue to increase in booms of up to 700% on occasions.

Because of the invasive population growth, efforts are underway to control the plague. Although it is unlikely that the lionfish will ever be eradicated from the north west-Atlantic coastal line, it is essential to periodically reduce the population densities.

Many conservation groups organize hunting expeditions for lionfish, including the Environment Education Foundation that recently hosted its third ‘lionfish derby’, offering a $3,000 prize for dive teams catching the highest number. Dive masters in Mexico and Honduras regularly spear Lionfish during dives, and a diver in Belize holds the staggering record of hunting 54 on one dive.

Long-term effects of invasion

Unfortunately, the long-term effects of the invasion are negative. Studies show that lionfish could be decreasing Atlantic reef diversity by up to 80%. Because lionfish are predators, they display aggressive tendencies, forcing native species to move, directly affecting food web relationships.

What can you do to help?

Here is what you can do: eat it! If you live or visit the areas we mentioned above, you can eat lionfish.  There is no risk of envenomation once you carefully dispose of the spines. And they are delicious! 


The Lionfish, an invader on the Atlantic northwest coast

Article's comment


I've ever eaten lionfish, but I believe you that it is a delicious fish! I agree that it's a necessity to make local population sensitive to this problem. I also read an article that explained the possible future role for the Groupers!! Watch this space...


Although eating lionfish might be an option (it is a delicious fish) you have to be very skilled to clean the fish, and only few people can do it. Also you get little meat. At Little Cayman, every wendesday, the dive masters and instructors from the resorts join efforts to spear fishing lionfish around the reef. Not only the population has decreased dramatically, but also it's been observed that Nassau Groupers are beginning to haunt them, which is quite good news.


Eating lionfish is one way to beat'em. However, for control efforts to be sustainable fishers need to be provided with an adequate economic return to offset the highhigher cost of catching lionfish (need to use spears or hand nets) in comparison to other seafood species. One approach to increasing return is promotion of lionfish spines and tails for jewlery and other decorative items. Its already happening in Belize and elsewhere:

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