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!