DoE aims to tame lionfish

| 10/03/2009

(CNS): As the invasive red lionfish continues to proliferate in the Cayman Islands’ waters, the Department of Environment (DoE) is working on creating a local volunteer team to begin removing them. However, as the Marine Conservation Law prevents anyone from taking species from protected areas, the Marine Conservation Board (MCB), which has the power to exempt certain people from that restriction, must first delegate its power to the DoE to enable them to tackle the problem. (Photo by Alex Henderson)

DoE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie explained that once the power has been given to them by the MCB to grant specific divemasters and other local volunteers a licence to remove the lionfish, the DoE has plans in place to train them and begin the process of removing the fish.

“We need to make sure that the volunteers we authorise know exactly which fish they are looking for, as we have already had a few problems of misidentification, and how to protect themselves when handling the fish,” she said. “The lionfish is a serious problem for the local marine environment and the goal is to reduce the population to a level where it no longer presents a threat to indigenous species. But to execute this programme it requires the contravention of several marine conservation regulations, so we need to make sure we follow the correct procedure,” she said.

Ebanks-Petrie noted that several local divers had already expressed their interest in volunteering to tackle the problem and tame the population, which has grown significantly in a matter months. The director said that while the first sightings were reported to the DoE early last year in waters around Little Cayman, by the end of 2008 the lionfish were reported across all three islands. The picture shown above was taken this past weekend at Turtle Reef off Grand Cayman.

“The fish have spread very quickly and it is important that we deal with this issue with urgency and get the correct measures in place to legally begin reducing the population,” she added.

Campaigns have already begun in Florida and in other parts of the Caribbean to begin taking the fish out of regional waters as the lionfish will not only compete for food and habitat with native reef species but could also harm divers or swimmers. Bermuda is now issuing culling permits to divers who undertake a training seminar.

The red lionfish (pterois volitans), which has long, venomous spines that it uses for protection, is native to the Indo-Pacific region but it has appeared in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea in recent years, possibly as a result of aquariums losing their captive fish in hurricanes.

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