Researchers say spearing lionfish is the best approach

There is confirmation that human intervention can control the invasive lionfish and allow native fish to recover.

The lionfish has been munching its way through all sorts of sea creature in the Caribbean for at least 10 years. The threat to juvenile fish is so great that the Asociacion de Pescadores Artesanales del Caribe Sur runs an annual contest. The group includes fishermen from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo and Punta Uva who are seeking to preserve their traditional lifestyle by snagging as many lionfish as possible.

The University of Oregon now says that this is the correct approach. After 18 months of field testing and with computer models researchers said that reducing lionfish numbers by specified amounts will allow a rapid recovery of native fish. They said that at the sites they studied a reduction should be between 75 and 95 percent.

The only way to do this is with human divers spearing the colorful fish. It helps that they are tasty as long as cooks avoid the poisonous spines.

This voracious, invasive species has wiped out 95 percent of native fish in some Atlantic locations said the Oregon researchers who worked in conjunction with scientists at Simon Fraser University.

The latest research used ecological modeling to determine what percentage of lionfish would have to be removed at a given location to allow for native fish recovery. At 24 coral reefs near Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas researchers then removed the necessary amount of lionfish to reach this threshold and monitored recovery of the ecosystem.

On reefs where lionfish were kept below threshold densities, native fish increased by 50 to 70 percent.

It’s one of the first studies of its type to demonstrate that reduction of an invasive species below an environmentally damaging threshold, rather than outright eradication, can have comparable benefits.

“This is excellent news,” said Stephanie Green, a marine ecologist in the College of Science at Oregon State University, and lead author on the report just published in Ecological Applications. “It shows that by creating safe havens, small pockets of reef where lionfish numbers are kept low, we can help native species recover. “And we don’t have to catch every lionfish to do it.” She was quoted by the university.

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