Recently a NOAA article about lionfish noted the potential for lionfish populations in U.S. waters to increase greatly, “They have no known predators and can reproduce rapidly, a mature female releases roughly two million eggs a year.” Another source states that females are reproductively active all year round, and could produce even more than that, “Females spawn year round, every 4 days and produce 25,000 eggs per batch or spawning. ”
The NOAA article also states lionfish off North Carolina coasts increased 700 percent from 2004 to 2008. But lionfish populations are even larger in the Bahamas, “Bahamas mean = 983/acre with a maximum of 1,343 per acre.”
The problem is the lionfish can eat a very large number of the native fish and in doing so disrupt reef ecology, and as noted above no species in the Atlantic is eating them, so they can grow unchecked. Another article reported the ravenous, venomous interlopers can, “…consume 80 percent of a reef’s population of small fish in just weeks.”
Conservationist Lad Adkins said of the invasive lionfish, “They eat other fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and octopus. Almost anything that moves and will go into that mouth, even up to half their own body size, is potential prey.” Lionfish are native to the Pacific Ocean and Indian Oceans, and are popular with American aquarium owners for their bright colors and slow, hypnotic movements. It is thought lionfish got into Florida waters either by being released there by aquarium owners or when an outdoor aquarium was broken and they fell into a Florida inlet. However they were released, now they have multiplied to high levels in some areas, and are increasing.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has launched a campaign called “Eat Them to Beat Them,” trying to get lionfish on the menus of restaurants. They want consumers to eat them in restaurants, so populations in the wild can be reduced through simple economic demand from humans. For example, a restaurant in the Turks and Caicos, called Mother’s Pizza is serving a lionfish pizza. There was a lionfish hunt in July there for the public, due to the damage the species is causing to the environment there, “lionfish consume juvenile snapper and grouper along with algae-eating parrotfish, all of which help keep reefs healthy. If unchecked, lionfish will ultimately destroy our reef.”
Because of their sharp, venom-containing spines they are not all that easy to catch. Seaworld.org states they have 18 of them. Typically lionfish are caught by netting or spearing, because they generally don’t bite bait on hooks. The venom in the spines cause severe pain, but not death in humans, perhaps with the exception of an allergic reaction.
Image Credit: Chmehl