Reef Relief Discusses the Invasion of the Indo Pacific Lionfish

By February 16, 2011Ocean News

The Indo Pacific Lionfish has invaded the Southeast Atlantic and the Caribbean. I’ve seen them diving in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. They are beautiful creatures but they are causing problems for new ecosystems. Reef Relief’s Director of Marine Projects, Rudy Bonn, breaks down the problem with the invasion of the Lionfish:

The Skinny on Hunting Lionfish! by, Rudy Bonn, Reef Relief’s Director of Marine Projects

I thought I would clarify a few things concerning the Lionfish invasion here in the Keys, and elsewhere, but first a little background information.

The Indo-Pacific Lionfish, Pterois volitans and P. miles are members of the scorpion fish family, Scorpenidae. These fish are considered to be nocturnal predators, feeding upon small fishes and crustaceans such as shrimp. Gut content analysis has demonstrated that these two items form the bulk of prey items found in the stomachs of lionfish. However, a large percentage of items found in the stomachs of lionfish were unidentifiable due to advanced digestion. They are generally considered to be generalist piscivores (fish eating) and it has been documented that over 40 different species of fishes have been found and identified through gut analysis from 20 different families of fishes including Serranidae (sea basses and groupers), and Lutjanidae (snappers). Their impact upon marine food webs and trophic levels are still being assessed through scientific research. What we do know is that the lionfish were introduced into the waters of the western Atlantic via the aquarium trade. Since the initial introduction this species has invaded the eastern seaboard of the United States, Bermuda, the Bahamas, the Gulf of Mexico and other areas.

In terms of their reproduction, it has been documented that the species mature relatively early in their life history and produce eggs several times per month throughout the year and thus explains the wide distribution of the species that we see today.Lionfish have the potential to reduce ecologically important species that contribute to the health and sustainability of coral reef ecosystems. For example, parrotfish and other herbivores which help to keep sea weeds and algae from overgrowing coral reefs have been found in the stomachs of lionfish.

Another probable impact, one of which that has been ignored in the literature is the high probability of divers hunting lionfish coming into physical contact with the corals themselves. Lionfish are cryptic and prefer to hide under ledges and in recesses of the reef during the daylight hours and it is this behavior that will increase the probability of hunters coming into contact with the reef.

Corals are protected by a thin, mucous membrane and physical contact will result in that protective membrane being torn, thus allowing for potential access of disease organisms and other pathogens to the coral tissue.
The same holds true for folks hunting lobsters as these organisms also prefer to hide in recesses in the reef during the daylight hours.

Human impacts to coral reef ecosystems are well documented and include everything from green house gas emissions, pollution, over fishing, and many others. When hunting lionfish or lobster, please take with you your most important weapon, that is your conscious, and please avoid coming into physical contact with the corals.

For more information concerning lionfish and to report sightings call Reef Relief 305-294-3100.

Incidentally, lionfish make for excellent table fare, just be careful when cleaning as their spines do contain venom and they can deliver a nasty sting.

The best treatment for a lionfish sting is to soak the injury in water as hot as you can possibly stand, it will help to draw out the venom and denature the proteins contained in the venom. Medical treatment by a doctor is also recommended.

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