Posted by: reefrescue | November 15, 2010

Lionfish Creates an Uproar, Bringing Out the Hunters

Voracious Intruders Stalked With Spears; Doing Your Part by Eating Them

Divers with spears are stalking the voracious lionfish, which is breeding by the thousands, gorging on tropical fish near coral reefs and rapidly spreading from the Bahamas and Florida up to the Carolinas.

Wall Street Journal

Monday, November 15, 2010

KEY LARGO, Fla.—Fluctuations in the fish population are flummoxing marine scientists the world over. But few species elicit the solution served up for the lionfish.

The voracious lionfish hoovers up nearly everything in it’s path, from shrimp and angel fish to lizards. The invasive breed from the Far East has bred by the thousands and spread from the Bahamas and Florida up to the Carolinas.

“Kill it and grill it!” says Sean Morton, superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, a 3,900-square-mile National Park that is entirely underwater. The park is licensing hundreds of scuba divers to exterminate red lionfish in “no-take” areas where other fishing and spearing isn’t permitted. “We want people to get out there and kill as many as possible,” he says.

The marine community is giving the same edict up and down the East Coast. Just as its fellow emigre from the Far East, the Asian carp, has shaken up the Great Lakes, the lionfish is taking on new territory.

The voracious species is breeding by the thousands, gorging on tropical fish near coral reefs and rapidly spreading from the Bahamas and Florida up to the Carolinas. The reddish-striped fish snarfs up nearly anything it can swallow, from crabs to shrimp to angelfish and other species divers like to see. Its prickly, venom-tipped spines fan out around its body and deter sharks and other predators.

Now, the hunt for red lionfish is heating up. The nonprofit Reef Environmental Education Foundation hosted its third “Lionfish Derby” over the weekend in the Florida Keys and handed out $3,350 in prize money to teams that brought in the most fish—109 were killed. Two derbies in the Bahamas the past two years netted more than 2,000 lionfish.

Near scuba spots, divers are increasingly submerging with spears, nets and protective gloves to try to battle the intruder—although divers say they still get stung through gloves. Websites, YouTube videos and Facebook pages describe how to catch and cook it.

“People have a sense that the waters they love are being invaded,” says Renata Lana, a spokeswoman with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This year, the federal agency launched an “Eat Lionfish” campaign, aimed at creating a taste for them at high-end restaurants.

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