[Coral-List] Lion fish question

Lad Akins Lad at reef.org
Mon Apr 22 11:44:07 EDT 2013

Hello Steve and all,

I feel like this is a conversation that has occurred repeatedly and has had some very good answers put forward.  Maybe you haven't seen them (please read through the literature) or maybe you just disagree (which is fine). In either case, I thought I'd respond one more time, then leave this alone.

Top predator control of lionfish is not likely the controlling factor in any location - including native range.  For almost all species, mortality is highest in the egg, larval and early juvenile stages.  We're not talking about sharks or big grouper here.  Planktivores and smaller predatory carnivores are more likely  controlling factors.  Trying to pin the control of lionfish on the recovery of large predators seems misguided.  Think about why lionfish have evolved those formidable 10+cm venomous spines across their backs.  To deter predation.  If it did not work, do you think they would have evolved in that manner?  Will any top predator ever consume a lionfish? Certainly.  Things eat other things in the ocean.  Will this be a common occurrence? Unlikely, when the cost of trying to consume a venomous, well defended lionfish is potentially (likely) injurious.

There are also other differences.  Native lionfish territory is home to many, many more species and families of fish not found in the Western Atlantic.  Lionfish eggs and larvae would have to make it through an incredible "wall of mouths" as Billy Causey likes to call it.  Compare that to reef environments in the Western Atlantic and this invaded range looks depauperate. Lack of parasites, unusual reproductive strategy, prey naivete, etc are also part of the issue.  The list is a common list when we talk about invasions.  

Why are some people investing their energies in lionfish control (including your customers - the diving public)?  Because studies are showing the impacts are lionfish are having on native marine life are considerable and that control can be effective in reducing those impacts.  Steve, you own a dive business.  Do you think your customers will want to dive a reef which has declined in its population of small, colorful reef fish by 95% over just two years? (read Green et al 2012).  What if they could invest time and energy in helping to cull lionfish from that reef and witness a comeback in native fish populations?  Well, that is exactly what is happening in many places around the region and why many people are working on this.  These people are not delusional.  Local control can be effective at minimizing impacts and allowing recovery.  

If you would like to sit back and let nature take its course, that's fine.  No one is asking you to drop what you are doing and go lionfish hunting.  But trying to convince others that this effort is a waste of time and that they are deluded is counter-productive to what we know is working, especially in areas of high priority like MPAs, nursery grounds, dive sites, etc.

I would offer the following regarding restoration of the ecosystem... it is not going to be acropora restoration, it is not going to be ending overfishing, it is not going to be reducing carbon footprints, it is not going to be stopping development and it is not going to be controlling lionfish that will help the ecosystem function more effectively.  It is going to be a combination of all of these things and many more, which is why there are many people working on many different marine related issues.  They all matter.  And when we find something that we can do, like lionfish control, coral restoration, implementing effective MPAs, etc. then good for us.

I applaud the current efforts of those around the region who are working hard at lionfish removals and witnessing the effectiveness of those removals.  I also applaud and encourage research into new lionfish control tools and technologies and I encourage those who are working on better understanding the lionfish invasion, the biology ecology of the fish and the impacts they are having. I respect the choices of those who chose not to engage in lionfish removals, but I find it hard to understand opinions that denounce efforts to address what we know is a grave threat to our environment.  We should all be supporting effective conservation efforts wherever they occur.

I apologize to listers for filling up inboxes and am more than willing to take this off-line via phone or email.

All the best,


Lad Akins
Director of Special Projects
P O Box 370246
98300 Overseas Hwy
Key Largo FL 33037
(305) 852-0030 w
(305) 942-7333 c
Lad at REEF.org

-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov [mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Steve Mussman
Sent: Saturday, April 20, 2013 3:37 PM
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: [Coral-List] Lion fish question

   Pardon the redundancy, but I feel compelled to follow up in the hope that
   some listers might consider alternative hypotheticals. Iâll keep it brief.
     * Is  it  possible  that a primary factor related to the density and
       proliferation of lion fish populations throughout the Caribbean {when
       compared  to  native  ranges}  might  be  the relative scarcity of
       higher-level,  larger  predatory fish such as sharks, grouper, and

     * Has anyone compared the relative total biomass of higher-level predators
       on the Caribbean reefs where lion fish are now found with that of the
       native Indo-Pacific ranges where anomalous controls are not required?

     * Is it reasonable to at least theorize that the best case scenario for
       effectively keeping invasive lion fish populations in check would be one
       that encompasses a strategy for overall coral reef recovery including
       the  related re-emergence of a greater number of potential natural

     * In the spirit of full disclosure, I raise these questions because it
       appears to me as if many in my industry are deluding themselves by
       focusing reef conservation efforts on this particular issue. Its good
       for business and thatâs a positive, but there needs to be an awareness
       that the implementation of currently advocated mitigation strategies
       will not miraculously  restore once healthy coral reef ecosystems. In
       the end we canât continue to ignore the eight-hundred-pound gorilla
       sitting squarely upon the Acropora palmata.

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