[Coral-List] Lionfish control

Holden Harris holden.earl.harris at gmail.com
Fri Feb 22 23:54:56 EST 2013

Regarding the ecological impacts of lionfish, all of the published
research has been consistent and unequivocal: lionfish are having
negative effects on invaded communities.  Lionfish significantly
reduce native recruitment, biomass, and biodiversity, and strong
evidence shows their presence to destabilize food webs and exacerbate
existing stressors.

Although lionfish grow quickly, they seem to make poor fish food, as
native predators do not seem to recognize lionfish as potential prey.
There is one published account of lionfish found in the stomachs of 3
groupers, however feeding trials in captivity have shown that sharks
and groupers will not eat lionfish, even when clearly hungry.  And
since lionfish are also resistant to native parasitism, right now it
seems that targeted removals are the only way to minimize their

Francesca’s post raises an excellent point regarding the lionfish
issue – and really any conservation matter – i.e. we should always be
wary of developing tunnel-vision.  Even if every invasive lionfish
could be removed, but we did nothing to lessen other anthropogenic
stressors, the trajectory for Caribbean coral reefs would remain
basically unchanged.  This ecosystem was in peril before the invasion,
and fixing the problem of human-driven environmental degradation will
certainly depend upon the research and efforts on a multitude of

The silver lining is that lionfish provide a unique, hands-on
opportunity to 1) promote citizen science, 2) raise awareness about
the damage of invasive species, and 3) develop concern for the plight
of coral reefs.   From my experience, the divers and fishermen who
take part in physically removing lionfish from a reef take home a
sense of stewardship for that reef.  Here's how I see it: lionfish
serve as a flagship species, albeit in reverse, which is being used to
leverage support for conserving biodiversity at large.  In this sense
the work of REEF and many others accomplishes much more than “killing
lionfish to pretend they are doing something.”

Best regards,

Holden Harris

>On the positive, at least Lionfish grow rather quickly, unlike the native groupers and can provide a base prey animal for eels and sharks etc. which latter left our reefs 25 years ago.  Also, most likely the venom will retreat in potency due to water differences and diet or preditors will adapt to it making then stronger.  And since these fish are genetically self-similar it is possible they will die out on their own.  Who knows.
> Only time will tell whether or not Lionfish being in the Eastern Atlantic is good or bad overall and there is little to nothing we can do about.  We can't find all of them.

>If it is "our responsibility to fix the problem" then why not starting from lowering our ecological >footprint. Of course killing lionfish to pretend we are doing something is much easier than giving up on >our polluting destructive luxurious habits.

Holden Earl Harris
T: 649.332.3361 (TCI)
    904.476.0984 (USA)
F: 649.946.3246
The School for Field Studies
Center for Marine Resource Studies
Turks and Caicos Islands

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