[Coral-List] Lionfish Discussion

David Fisk davefisk at gmail.com
Wed Jan 26 08:52:57 EST 2011

Its been interesting to see our Atlantic based folk getting all worked up
about an introduced species which from an Indo-Pacific perspective, is a
beautiful specialised predator that is valued as a diver's experience, not
to mention the perfect specimen for the budding underwater photographer. As
others have stated, it is too late to stop it now, it may be a case of
learning to love it. The size of individuals being recorded from the
Atlantic/Caribbean suggests that it is going to be very successful, as these
lengths seem to be generally very much higher than the average in the
original distribution range for the species (my personal observations). Lion
fish are usually uncommon on Indo-Pacific reefs I have been to, though they
can be brought up in larger numbers in trawls from off-reef sedimentary
habitats. So the information given to the List so far would suggest it is
following its normal habitat preferences, though at this early stage of
introduction it is somewhat bloated in size which is normal for a successful
introduced predator. I suspect that in time the average size and density
will reduce, assuming relatively healthy habitats, and that it will be an
uncommon occurrence on most coral reefs. While I expect that there is a
general open field day on collecting them at present, perhaps a more
fruitful endeavour in terms of measuring its impact would be to see what
they are eating through gut analyses, rather than focusing on what can/would
eat them, and the concern could be alleviated (or enhanced I admit!). Also
it would be reasonable to assume that over time, other predators will learn
how to capture lionfish though it may not be as an adult, but rather as a
less formidable juvenile, when the flashy body design will still be present
but the poison less threatening.

In any case, could it be time to broaden the topic and discuss why this
occurred, and how future introductions can be minimised? For example, if the
aquarium traders and aquarium enthusiast are partly to blame, we should be
looking at ways to educate and install better management systems (eg, a
'buy-back' system by aquarium traders, reduce trade in predators in general,
etc???). If one looks at the range of species being traded within the
aquarium industry, there are quite a few potential future rogue species
ready to extend their ranges. Of course, there will always be accidental
introductions that cannot be stopped, but the key here is to at least put in
place best practice methods, and to aim for 'minimising the risks'. For a
few years the aquarium industry looked like it was going to have these
structures in place (at least from the supply side, though I know there are
many aware and astute aquarium enthusiasts driving the demand side as well),
Today I am not sure if there is any effective management in place, except
for the obvious measures that ensure healthy specimens are available over
the counter, ready to be bought. How specimens are obtained (aquaculture
verses wild caught) is still not readily available, and the impact of wild
caught specimens is not really known or effectively managed, except for some
anecdotal evidence in countries (like Fiji) where a company's collection
activities are restricted to specific traditional reef areas, so it is in
their interest to attempt sustainable collection methods. The high potential
for the supply of aquarium products to offer livelihoods for otherwise
impoverished coastal communities means that the issue will not subside, so
it has to be effectively supported by science and proper management.

And on the demand side in particular, there is an urgent need to show
respect for the potential of some species to 'do a lionfish', and perhaps
for a lot more responsibility and leadership to come from individuals and

David Fisk

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