We have hosted a series of posts from Raxa contributor Phil Karp, with citizen science and entrepreneurial conservation angles to the story; and now the New York Times considers the story fit to print in a well-detailed reportage:
A Call to Action Against a Predator Fish With an Import Ban, an App and Even Rodeos
MIAMI — They eat anything that fits in their mouths. They reproduce copiously and adapt effortlessly. And they have become as ubiquitous and pesky as rats — only prettier and more conniving.
Nearly three decades after a lone venomous lionfish was spotted in the ocean off Broward County — posing as a bit of eye candy back then and nothing more — the species has invaded the Southern seaboard, staking a particular claim on Florida, as well as the Gulf Coast, the Caribbean, and even parts of South America. Spreading gradually at first, and then frenetically from 2005 onward, lionfish have become the most numerous marine nonnative invasive species in the world, scientists said. Along the way, the predators, which hail from the other side of the world and can grow here to 20 inches long, are wreaking havoc on delicate reefs and probably further depleting precious snapper and grouper stocks.
There is no stopping them now, salt-water experts said. But hoping to at least slow them down, marine biologists and government agencies have been intensifying efforts recently to spearfish them out of certain areas that harbor fragile reefs and figure out how they became a threat so quickly and so successfully in the Atlantic Ocean.
Most recently, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted in June to ban as of Aug. 1 the importation of lionfish, and this month to prohibit the breeding of the fish in the state, steps that marine experts said will serve to focus attention on the severity of the problem. The commission had already lifted fishing licensing requirements to hunt lionfish and even started an app so that people can report lionfish sightings.
“Eradication is not on the table, but local control has proven to be very effective,” said Lad Akins, special projects director for the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, a grass-roots organization helping to curb the proliferation of lionfish. “They are what many people call a near-perfect invader.”
Figuring out how to combat them —what works, what does not — has been an exercise in both imagination and frustration. The lionfish derbies, or rodeos, seem to have the best success rate. Groups of divers gather for a day of spearfishing; last week, 22 divers, some from as far away as Texas, strapped on tanks in the Florida Keys and speared 573 lionfish in one day. There is talk of offering bounties, as one university in Mississippi did to create incentives, but money is scarce.
Then there is the gourmet approach. Some Florida restaurants are now buying lionfish, which are light and flaky when cooked, not unlike snapper, and serving them to diners. Once there is a large enough market for them, scientists said, fishermen will pay attention and help haul them out of the sea.
But there are problems there, too.
“The tricky part is catching them — traditional fisheries use hook and line and that doesn’t seem to be effective with lionfish,” said Maia McGuire, a marine biologist at the University of Florida. “Divers with spear guns, they catch and catch and catch; it’s labor intensive and requires divers, gear and boats.”…
Read the whole story here.