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Manual Gives Tips on Combating Invasive Lionfish

10 October 2012

US - Scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and its partners teamed up to create the first ever guidelines for coastal managers to control the spread of invasive lionfish that are taking food and habitat from native fish that are important to the local ecology and economy.

Lionfish have no natural predators and are now found in waters from North Carolina south to Florida, the Caribbean, and all Gulf of Mexico states.

This new manual, Invasive Lionfish: A Guide to Control and Management includes the best available science and practices for controlling lionfish in marine protected areas, national parks, and other conservation areas. By following suggestions in the new publication, resource managers can develop effective local control plans. The guide is available free online.

“Most ecologists and fishery managers believe that lionfish being introduced from the Pacific to the Atlantic is one of the major ecological disasters of the last two decades,” said James Morris Jr., Ph.D., NOAA ecologist at the Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research who served as the book’s editor and author of two chapters. “What we have done is compile conventional and new ideas for lionfish control into one easily understood format.”

Among the suggestions to control lionfish in the manual are:

  • Managers should involve the entire community — including fishers, dive operators, the public, and seafood industries — in their management plans.
  • How often Lionfish need to be removed can vary widely depending on their habitat.
  • Events such as lionfish fishing derbies can remove large numbers of the species in short periods of time.

Today lionfish are found in nearly all marine habitats in the Atlantic along the Southeast United States and in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean waters. Densities of lionfish have surpassed some native reef fish in many locations. The ecological impacts of this invasion are far-reaching — from disruptions to the structure and function of reef communities to impacts on commercial fishing and the tourism industry.

“Invasive lionfish pose a clear and present threat to coastal marine ecosystems and fisheries of the tropical Western Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico,” said Mark Hixon, Ph.D., a prominent coral reef ecologist of Oregon State University. ”This new guide is a comprehensive compendium of up-to-date information for understanding and effectively addressing this worst of marine invasions.”

Specific impacts of lionfish include consumption of ecologically important species such as algae eaters that keep algae in check on coral reefs. On heavily invaded reefs, lionfish are also capable of removing more than 60 percent of prey fish, some of which include economically important species like snapper and grouper.

Scientists from NCCOS collaborated with many international experts from multiple partners including the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, Reef Environmental Education Foundation, the International Coral Reef Initiative, the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, Simon Fraser University of Vancouver, the United Nations Caribbean Environmental Program, and Mexico’s Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas, to develop the publication.

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