Lionfish Go From Predator to Prey

Anxious to prevent the collapse of Jamaica’s overexploited marine fisheries, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is promoting the consumption of lionfish to control its burgeoning population. At risk officials say, are the nation’s marine biodiversity, its food security and economic well- being.

“The situation in Jamaica is urgent,” said Nelsa English, national coordinator for the Jamaican component of a Caribbean-wide Invasive Alien Species Project at the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA).

“A lack of sufficient natural predators suggests that it (lionfish) could be a potentially significant threat to Jamaica’s biodiversity and the ecosystem in general,” she noted.

Jamaica’s marine resources are stretched to the breaking point, its reefs overfished and degraded due to environmentally unfriendly fishing practises such as the use of explosives, poisons and fishing nets that are below the legal mesh size.

Scientists agree that many of the reefs have been reduced to coral communities and no longer function as vital ecosystems because their biodiversity is so severely degraded. Some studies suggest that only two percent of some reefs are live coral and the structures themselves are reportedly being eroded faster than they can regenerate.

“Currently our fishing industry survives on the removal of young adults. This practice does not allow for enough fish to mature and reproduce which puts pressure on the fecundity of the ecosystem,” English told IPS.

According to English, the presence of the lionfish – which ranges in colours from orange to maroon – in such a depleted marine environment could wipe out the fishing industry. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries estimates that there are more than 30,000 fishers on the island.

The lionfish (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) was first seen in Jamaican waters in 2008 but rapidly spread island- wide. Experts say they can reduce survival rates of small reef fish by as much as 80 percent; growing to an average of 15 inches and spawning up to 30,000 eggs at least twice a year. There are few predators of this Pacific native in the region besides groupers