Jamaica Fights Lionfish Invasion With "Let's Eat It To Deplete It" Campaign
Jamaica’s waters have been invaded by the lionfish and the island nation seems to be on track to overtake The Bahamas as the Caribbean country most affected by this predator. The dramatic increase in its numbers first started along the South coast of the United States, spreading to the Caribbean with The Bahamas being the most affected.
Marine biologist Dr Dayne Buddo, who is spearheading the National Lionfish Project says that the lionfish population is now averaging about 100 individuals per hectare of reef. This situation has pushed the University of the West Indies (UWI) Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory to fast-track its efforts to control this invasive species.
The fish has stripes down its side and fins that surround its head. It also has numerous spines that carry a poison that causes terrible pain to anyone who comes into contact with it.
Although the fish is native to Africa and Australia, it later found its way into the American waters and into the Atlantic Ocean. There are different theories on how this happened. It is believed that the fish were either carried over in the ballast water of freighters; dumped into the Atlantic by people who bought them and were unaware how poisonous they are; or six lionfish were washed into the Atlantic from an aquarium that was destroyed when Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in 1992.
With it's venomous spikes, it has no natural enemies in this new environment, lays 30,000 eggs every few months, and eats all the other fish, thereby destroying the beautiful coral reefs. The lionfish is not only poisonous but it also has the ability to reproduce every four days, all year round.
The increase of the species is posing a serious threat to the biodiversity of the Jamaican waters. Research by the UWI Discovery Bay Marine Lab shows that over 15 different species have been found in the stomach of the lionfish, including numerous species of commercial value.
Lionfish are commonly found on coral reefs, mangrove lagoons, seagrass beds, on beaches, in rocky areas of the coastline and on artificial structures in the water such as piers, breakwaters, groynes, and artificial reefs. It has also been spotted at depths of 335 metres (1,100 ft) below the surface, with sizes of 51 centimetres (20 inches) recorded.
Natural predators such as groupers, moray eels, and sharks have proved ineffective in checking the lionfish spread and this has led to a national campaign under the theme 'Let's Eat It To Deplete It' to get Jamaicans to consume the lionfish with a vengeance.
The success of this venture has yet to be determined, but as the Jamaican authorities have put it: "It is far more important to promote rather than to do nothing.”
Recreational divers can help to alleviate the lionfish invasion by this new type of sport fishing. Already, lionfish "derbies" are being conducted where divers armed with small spears can shoot and bag lionfish. Unlike most other fish species, the lionfish does not scare and will not swim away from a diver or a spear.
Lionfish are venomous and should be handled with extreme care, so be careful not to jab yourself with their fins or spikes while preparing it. The use of heavy gloves whilst cleaning and filleting the fish are highly recommended.
Heating kills the venom and then it is not only safe but very good to eat. It is an environmentally friendly fish to catch due to its high population and negative impacts on the local reefs.
Visitors staying at Jamaica villas can play their part and ask their cooks to serve them lionfish.
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