After an energy-filled introduction with the NASA “Gangham Style parody,” “NASA Johnson Style”
the class jumped right into the inconsistencies of the USGS volunteer reported sightings of lionfish. It became clear that political and sociological factors are probably contributing to inaccuracies in the information provided. For example, the first sightings of lionfish were off the coast of Florida, and since then they have sprung up in Jamaica, but reported sightings of them in intervening Cuba are rather sparse. Although we did not know it at the time, the video shown later in class dealt with lionfish in the Yucatan Peninsula, but the USGS site showed very few reported sightings there on the website.
In addressing our reading, INVASIVE LIONFISH A Guide to Control and Management, edited by James A. Morris, Jr., we discussed some of the biological characteristics of Lionfish. Specifically the extreme population density exhibited in Atlantic and the behavioral changes the lionfish exhibit (greater reproduction and aggressiveness). A possible explanation for the increased reproduction rate concerned whether it is simply normal behavior to have greater reproduction in a relatively safe environment with plentiful food. The change in aggression, however, seems odd and leaves me thinking more details are necessary to arrive at a reasonable suggestion for this change.
A request has been issued for an image of Gollum (who is actually Smeagol) smashing a lionfish on a rock. I cannot be certain but it almost appears as though Gollum has become our groups’ mascot. What next? T-shirts?
Extent of the Lionfish Problem
The problem has been broken down into four critical areas:
1) Ecological: A compounding stressor on reefs along the US East Coast, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Northern South America.
Lionfish eat the fish that control algae, which in turn allows the algae to grow unchecked in the reefs, shifting it to an algal-dominated state. This, in turn, weakens the reefs. Adding this stressor (in addition to rising ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, pollution, overfishing, and other climate-change related reef stressors) contributes to coral bleaching and the eventual death of reefs.
2) Ecological: Lionfish voracious appetite and overcompetition significantly reduces the types and population sizes of other fish
By reducing the variety of species and quantity of surviving species the lionfish reduces the biodiversity in the surrounding area. This in turn makes that environment less capable of recovering from negative impacts, such as algal dominance in the reefs.
3) Economic: Lionfish reduce the quantity of valuable fish through outcompeting or directly preying on other fish. Consequently fishermen have less quarry to gather, having a negative impact on potential catches, and eventually creating a shortage of desirable fish.
4) Economic: Lionfish is a venomous fish and can make areas where tourists would swim or engage in other water activities dangerous. Further, killing reefs and reducing the number of other fish can diminish the beauty of tourist destinations. Both of these can negatively affect the income brought in by tourism.
Venomous vs. Poisonous
Some confusion about the venomous and poisonous nature of lionfish has cropped up over the course of their invasion. Lionfish are venomous creatures; their spines carry poison that will effect you if they pierce the skin. This poison has been described as painful, potentially causing paralysis, but in general is not extremely serious. They are not naturally poisonous and can be eaten if prepared properly. Early attempts to educate Latin American countries used confusing language that may hamper future attempts to educate people in those countries about the potential to eat lionfish.
Further complicating the issue is the fact that lionfish that eat and live in some reefs bioaccumulate a neurotoxin called siguatera, which does make them poisonous to humans.
Additionally, the bad reputation gained with this accumulated toxicity has been misrepresented, presenting the lionfish as a potential vector for Siguatera disease, but grouper and other predatory fish that would bioaccumulate the same neurotoxin are said to cause “fish poisoning,” yet these problems are actually the same, as the “fish poisoning” is the effect of Siguatera.
The Scourge of the Lion Fish
In the educational video, an overview of the lionfish problem and possible solutions are presented. The three example solutions are first a determined removal, with an expected repeat every three months, then a regular contest (called a derby) to see what fisherman could catch the most and the largest lionfish, and finally a profit-based fishing effort.
The derby appeared to have some efficacy with an added advantage that the event could be tied into tourism, potentially creating a positive economic affect. Unfortunately, such contests require a funding source and are unlikely to draw in commercial fisherman.
The profit-based fishing effort involved local fisherman using spearfishing techniques to hunt lionfish, selling to distributers, which then eventually makes its way into restaurants. It is presented as wildly successful at both control and making a profit. But, the rosy picture presented by the video belies at least one glaring flaw.
The video suggests no genuine problems with any of the removal methods. While it addresses the issues of venom safety in the gathering process and removal in the preparation process, it does not speak to known issues with Siguatera, a serious concern for consumption of the fish. The message of the video is so positive it could be argued that it strays from its role as educational into the realm of propaganda.