Lionfish: An Introduced Species Gone Awry

lionfish: introduced species gone awry
Lionfish: Public Enemy #1? Photo by Cherilyn Jose

From Lionfish POV: Psst, humans. First they capture lionfish for their home aquariums and we are considered deadly beauties. Then a few aquarists let us go (accidentally or on purpose) in the Atlantic and Caribbean Oceans and poof! We have become the scourge of the oceans. That is because we reproduce prolifically and can eat anything that fits in our mouths. Lionfish hunts are regularly held, and some humans have even tried to condition wild sharks to eat us. That saddens me because we haven’t done anything other than what our biology tells us, and now we are public enemy #1 in the oceans.

From Human POV: Lionfish hail from the Western Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, but in the last 20 years have literally taken over the Atlantic and Caribbean Oceans. The main reason why is because humans have overfished the natural predators, such as grouper, of the lionfish.

Introduced species have been studied intensively throughout the terrestrial world, and especially on islands where the invasive species are more apparent. In the ocean however, it is much harder to study introduced species due to fact that there are no real boundaries there.

The main tactic to reduce the unnatural lionfish population has been to kill them. Dr. Sylvia Earle, known as “Her Deepness” for her pioneering Jacques Cousteau type exploration and passion, says of that, “Kill kill kill…is not the solution, Lionfish have replaced a void created by the loss of apex predators, the best way to protect the ocean reefs is to create more Marine Protected Areas (MPA) to bring back healthy numbers of predators, that will in turn bring balance back to the reef.”

Creating Marine Protected Areas has been shown to increase fish that are fished in the areas surrounding the MPAs, so MPAs are really a win win situation both for humans and ocean denizens.

Author’s note: The Lionfish is one of my favorite fish to take care of in aquariums. I always stayed clear of their venomous spines, and they were quite fun to feed. They have the potential to eat until they burst, but there is something very satisfying about feeding an animal. In the lionfish’s case, feeding them until I hoped they were satiated. The particular tank I used to take care of also had a porcupine pufferfish, which is another favorite aquarium fish of mine. Porcupinefish are truly the “dogs of the ocean.”