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Lionfish

September 30, 2010

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“Lionfish!”

The mixture of emotions that this one word evoked was evident: anticipation, excitement, respect.

This exotic-looking fish was unintentionally introduced to The Bahamas as a result of hurricane Andrew in 1992.  Apparently, a few red lionfish escaped from a home aquarium into the ocean during the destruction caused.  Without any natural predators in the local area, the lionfish population has exploded.  Part of our research is to better understand how this invasive species is interacting and possibly influencing our local environment.

Today, after careful preparation, our task is to live-capture a lionfish.  We hope to dissect a few lionfish during our next class to learn more about fish anatomy.  This species is particularly interesting for dissection because it is covered in spines that release venom into their victim.  Though there are no known fatalities due to lionfish stings, their sting is extremely painful.

After receiving the call of alert, we immediately jump into action.  Skylar grabs two heavy vinyl nets that have specifically designed to resist puncture from the venomous spines.  Matt grabs two weight belts to aid in staying underwater long enough to capture the fish.  The rest of our research group are asked to keep a safe distance until we can put our plan into action.

The plan:

1.     Attach weight belt.

2.     Freedive four meters to lionfish location.

3.     Gently coax the lionfish between the two nets.

4.     Rapidly close the gap.

5.     Transport to the boat for safekeeping.

6.     Don’t get stung!

Skylar makes the first attempt.  Due to strong current and medium winds, it takes a lot of energy to get to the bottom and has to surface quickly.  Matt makes the second attempt, but approaches too quickly, startling the fish into the reef.  Third time is the charm.  Skylar coaxes the lionfish between our two nets and expertly closes the gap.  Success!

We surface to show the group our lionfish, which is large for this species.  All of us are carefully amazed by the beauty of this fish.  We swim to the boat and cautiously put the fish into our improvised live-well (a 5-gallon bucket).

5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 30, 2010 9:41 am

    While Lionfish are beautiful, we hate to see them here in the waters around Green Turtle Cay and all of us kill them whenever we see them in the water. We actually hold a “Lionfish Derby” awarding cash prizes to the people with the biggest, the most, and the smallest lionfish. We captured and killed around 1400 lionfish in one day, but it hardly put a dent in the population. they eat everything and seem to have no natural predators around here. Good luck with your research hope you find some way to control them and keep them from depeleting our snapper, grouper and crawfish populations!

  2. James York permalink
    September 30, 2010 2:00 pm

    Amen Molly! In addition, Island School students, once you learn precautionary protocol, harvesting lionfish can have a dual benefit: they are incredibly good to eat and could feed the entire school on special local seafood night, relieving some of the pressure on the traditional reef species Molly mentions above… but be VERY careful handling and cleaning them!

    • Molly McIntosh permalink
      October 3, 2010 9:19 am

      Thanks for mentioning that James, I have eaten Lionfish and it tastes great. We served free samples of lionfish grilled and fried at our Derby. Drawbacks are as you stated, having to be very careful cleaning them as the spines will still get you even when the fish is dead, and also that the majority of the lionfish are small and not that much meat. A lot of work and being careful for just a little piece of tasty fish. Some of the fisherman around here are trying to figure out a way to market them to some of the fish houses in the Bahamas and I think one fish house in Nassau is already buying and paying decent money for them.

    • Mary permalink
      December 27, 2010 7:14 pm

      Sonce the poison is heat-sensitive, could one not find a way of exposing the spines to boiling water before further handling the fish?

  3. Caitlin Rummelsburg permalink
    October 2, 2010 9:16 pm

    Hey Mar!!!

    Miss you soooo much :(( Hope you’re having fun!

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