By: Joshua Durham
As Florida looks inward to address ecological concerns, the lionfish invasion continues to plague coastal citizens and marine fauna. The problem has hampered both fishermen and ecological researchers in the Gulf Coast, effectively choking growth and stability on local reefs. With a growing population in the Gulf, the situation necessitates significant actions: ones local governments can perform in tandem with the private sector.
State funding could promote both private and government involvement, primarily in regards to awareness campaigns. Ideally, the private and public sector would collaborate to reach an optimal solution. With the new trapping systems from both the private sector and the federal sector, both sides are experimenting with ways to solve the problem (see also Part 2 in this series). What remains to be done is informing the public how they can help.
One easily applied method of advertisement is the deregulation of lionfish hunting. Lionfish have no daily catch limit, allowing interested parties to hunt and reduce the associated costs local governments fret over. This brings in tourism dollars and mitigates reef destruction caused by their presence. Allowing commercial fishers easier access to permits for lionfish capture through specialized nets would be the optimal next step; currently, these permits are harder to procure than a standard trapping or fishing license. Larger hauls encourage innovation by net-makers and generate a market in areas divers can’t reach. Informing those who are concerned with this issue should be both a priority for the public and private sector interests.
While the government is relatively focused on the problem of lionfish overpopulation, the private sector can provide a more differentiated approach to raising public awareness.
One way to handle these problems might be specialized private training and culinary involvement. Restaurants around Florida and the Eastern Seaboard have started putting lionfish on the menu. Stations like these could strongly benefit from lower regulation and incentivization for hunting and capture. Lionfish have an innate attraction given their beauty and their apparent taste, but proper incentives in the form of promoting hunting lionfish as a local delicacy or even as a “conservationist’s duty,” could go a long way to quell the growing invasive species dilemma.
Ending the invasion is unlikely at this point, but striving towards an outcome of controlled growth benefits citizens and the environment. What remains to be seen is how the government and private interests can effectively balance their advantages to help one another. At the moment, government involvement is best suited in research development and information distribution, while the private sector excels in encouraging hunting and developing products for the market in the local theater Given the current situation, what needs to occur is deceptively simple: a cooperation between the local governments, researchers, hunters, and devoted citizen conservationists. This raises awareness to the public of the gravity of the lionfish epidemic and how the problem can be kept to a manageable level with their help.