Underwater Wakulla- November 9, 2017

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The Lionfish Problem Persists By TRAVIS KERSTING and GREGG STANTON

The Lionfish Problem Persists. By Travis Kersting and Gregg Stanton

Like most invasive species, the Lionfish inhabiting our reefs are not an easy species to control. The primary method of removing them is via diving down, usually on scuba, and using a pole spear to shoot the fish and a containment device to hold them. Without diver intervention Lionfish can decimate a reef in weeks.

At this year's DEMA show in Orlando there was an informational seminar presented by FWC, NOAA, Reef, Whole Foods and other organizations. They touched on the current state of research, removal efforts, technological solutions, sale of  fish, among other concerns.

Yes, a major food market is seeking as much Lion fish as anyone can provide. They have the market interest to work with any fisherman that can reliably deliver, regardless of size. If interested, drop us a line and we can give their contact numbers.

The biggest change from past presentations is that it is no longer acceptable to try and teach other marine life to eat the Lionfish. Too many creatures are being harmed or killed, often by starvation after Lionfish spines get caught in the throat or gills of a predatory fish and prevent them from eating other prey. If an animal, like a shark, wanted to eat a Lionfish it needs to eat it head first so that all the spines lay flat agains the body and the fish goes down the throat easily. Instead the Sharks take them off the spear and spines are driven through the roof of the mouth. They had some pretty horrific images of suffering animals. We do not know how the venom affects these potential predators either.

Diving to collect Lion fish is one option but Steve Giddings from NOAA has been working on traps that have zero bait, or by-catch, and little or no chance of ghost fishing. The traps are very promising and the permit process is in the works so that fisherman like those collecting crabs or lobsters will easily be able to add Lionfish to their income. If you are interested in this you can read about potential trap designs and the permitting process with a simple Google search.

Even more technological devices are in the works, many of which have been highlighted on social media. Everything from Autonomous ROV's with poison or electrical killing apparatus to reef mounted traps using audio type baiting systems that call in the fish, are among the dozens of upcoming designs. There are even some diver mounted suction systems that function much like a vacuum cleaner.

Nature may be fighting back against the Lionfish on a biological level but there is still a lot of research and science to be done before we can elaborate on that. For now, if you find Lionfish that have strange flesh or tumor like growths you probably won't want to eat them but please report these fish to us or FWC along with approximately where you found them. We will keep you posted as we find out more on this subject.

Divers are still the best defense against a predator that is otherwise taking over the reefs. Unfortunately there is another invasive Damselfish from the same Indopacific region that is also moving into our waters. Our fight is hardly over. If you'd like to know more, FWC and reef.org both have wonderful informational resources on Lionfish and you are always welcome to come chat with us on the subject.