By: Joshua Durham
When considering Florida’s ecology, the influence of devoted citizens in the private sector is imperative. A perfect example of this drive can be found in the growing trend of invasive lionfish hunting. Hunting these fish is critical because of their destructive presence in non-native waters, an issue explored in Part 1 of this series.
The reasons why lionfish are so destructive revolves around their predatory overconsumption and their sedentary lifestyle which drive out native species. With the lionfish population growing each day, steps must be taken to clear them out. With such an expansion in a short amount of time, the Gulf and the Atlantic Coast remain in a tenuous ecological position.
Thankfully, recent trends signal changes for the better. Swaths of coastline now hold bounties for lionfish while researchers are investigating when to effectively hunt them. New trap structures are creating new possibilities for those interested in joining the efforts. These current removal methods suggest a market-based approach as an opportunity to stabilize this ecological problem. As the epidemic expands across the Caribbean and Eastern Seaboard, there remains a need to preserve the balance in coastal waters. So far it seems that given the tools, this epidemic could be slowed, leaving the ocean less toxic than before.
The predominant method for lionfish removal is a derby, where divers are contracted by clients to catch and remove as many fish as possible. Once in the water, divers cover as much space as possible, tracking where they go and how many fish they catch. From spearfishing to modified Glock darts, many emerging methods help remove the fish from coastal waters.
Once a derby concludes, all fish are rounded up and examined by event overseers, and everything from the pickup location to bodily measurements and stomach contents is cataloged for researchers. This has prompted all manner of data collection, primarily detailing when and where to effectively remove the species.
This scientific targeting has located the spots where diver removal is most efficient, as it appears native species alone cannot slow the growth of the lionfish population. These systems and their further implementation seem to be the best way the average person can help as of now.
While derbies showcase the benefits of a group devoted to preservation and some entertainment, other experimental technologies could collect the fish outside of a diver’s depth range. New traps utilize a central tree structure that snags the lionfish’s fins, but also allows other fish to pass through. While these nets are still in testing, the preliminary models showcase their potential to combat this growing issue. Similarly, lobster and shrimp traps have shown promise at catching lionfish, as the mesh structure entangles their spines. Still, other designs hold promise, not just in developing a solution to this lionfish invasion, but also in innovating new recognition technology for other ecological projects. Once available, these systems could very well contract lionfish populations, and provide dedicated individuals the tools to do so themselves.
While these direct interventions are valuable and merit expansion, public awareness of the problem could be improved. This is a focus of Part 3 in this series on addressing the lionfish invasion.