All eyes on lionfish
Local fisheries officials, scientists and other stakeholders are keeping close tabs on the lionfish (Peterois volitans) which was discovered in local waters late last year.
This is according to Fisheries Biologist in the Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, Chris Parker, who said research on the invasive species was far advanced and monitoring of the fish to keep watch on its numbers was ongoing.
He was speaking today during a presentation at the Bellairs Research Institute to delegates attending the 21st Conference of the OIE Regional Commission for the Americas.
“We have ongoing research in monitoring the spread through the collection of sighting information; [and] the collection and analysis of specimens … but there is also a very strong research programme being conducted by the UWI, with the Fisheries Division and the CZMU as collaborators, looking at on-the-site impacts, that is, looking at what is there before and then after,” he explained.
The discovery of the lionfish in November 2011 off the island’s west coast triggered the start of a planned in-depth scientific monitoring and research programme involving the University of the West Indies, the Coastal Zone Management Unit and the Fisheries Division, along with several volunteer fishermen and divers.
Parker explained that the lionfish, a native of the Indo-Pacific region, was first discovered in this region on the east coast of Florida in 1985 and by 2010, had reached many countries in the Caribbean and South America.
While he acknowledged that it would be very difficult to eradicate the invasive species, the fisheries official revealed that stakeholders were actively exploring a number of options to limit its numbers and handle any issues surrounding the lionfish.
Parker suggested that one option ‘on the table’ for controlling the numbers was development of a market for lionfish.
“The economic incentives are important [in this regard]. What we are looking at is to develop a market and a fishery for lionfish. So, their eradication pays for itself. It is very popular abroad now, cooking lionfish,” he remarked.
He added: “Developing the fisheries and market needs will require some attention and we would have to draw in other agencies to draw on their expertise in this area.”
Parker stressed that while stakeholders were presently looking at several ways of dealing with the increase in lionfish and the numbers are expanding as expected by fisheries officials, they had not reached such a stage where there should be cause for concern.
caption: Fisheries biologist, Chris Parker, showing some of the delegates and an RBPF officer one of the captured lionfish specimens.