BE AWARE – Lionfish in our waters!
BASSETERRE. St. Kitts - Fishermen in Old Road are now reporting that the lionfish is regularly being seen along the coast and around the fishing complex at Old Road. This is ominous news for both bathers and our coral reefs.
If attacked, a lionfish delivers potent venom via its needle-like dorsal fins. Its sting is extremely painful to humans and can cause nausea and breathing difficulties, but is rarely fatal. Swimmers are asked to be extremely careful if these fish are seen in any waters around them.
In addition, lionfish are voracious feeders and have been known to eat as many as twenty fish in a 30 minute period.
“Due to their population explosion and aggressive behaviour, lionfish have the potential to become the most disastrous marine invasion in history by drastically reducing the abundance of coral reef fishes and leaving behind a devastated ecosystem.” So says Dr. Mark Hixon and his team working at NURP Caribbean Marine Research Center.
The fish is identified by long, poisonous spines along its dorsal and pectoral sides, as well as its zebra-like red-stripped pattern. The largest of lionfish can grow to about 15 inches (0.4 meters) in length, but the average is closer to 1 foot (0.3 meters).
Only the grouper has been seen to be a possible predator of the lionfish, but they are often overfished in these waters. With few known natural predators, the lionfish poses a major threat to coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean region by decreasing survival of a wide range of native reef animals via both predation and competition.
It is believed that lionfish have come from the Indo-Pacific waters but have reached here as a result of hurricanes. Since 1990 they were sighted in Caribbean waters between the islands of the Bahamas.
Now they are steadily migrating down the island chain with coral reefs as their feeding havens. In 2010 they had already been spotted in St. Eustatius and St. Kitts and Nevis.
WHAT TO DO?
Fortunately lionfish flesh is tasty and cooking denatures the spine venom. So we are being asked to become lionfish predators and make a meal of them... as long as they can be caught, and the catcher is not “venomised”
Eat them, but be careful!