Since 1985, an invasive marine species has been drifting its way up the Atlantic Coast. Originating in the Indo-Pacific, lionfish infiltrated North Carolina waters around the year 2000. With no local predators, the venomous carnivore feasts on native species—leading to what some marine conservation groups call an ecological crisis. Keri Kenning, Communications and Affiliate Program Manager at Reef Environmental Education Foundation, or REEF, suggests the lionfish dilemma has both a human cause and potential solution.
Aquarium owners introduced lionfish to the Atlantic when they released them in waters off the coast of Florida. Lionfish eggs then made their way north on the Gulf Stream. Kenning says they prey on three main categories of fish: those that are economically important to fisheries, like grouper and snapper, and recreationally important species, like seahorses.
Kenning adds, “Perhaps the most important group of species that lionfish eat are what we call ecologically important species that serve the role as grazers. They swim around on coral reefs and pick algae off. The entire structure of a coral reef can be changed by that.”
Kenning says humans play a vital role in checking the population of this invasive species. Other fish are deterred from approaching the lionfish by its EIGHTEEN venomous spines, but this gives the predator an Achilles’ heel. Bold lionfish are not easily intimidated by divers, making them easier to collect, filet, and devour. And for those in need of preparation tips, REEF offers The Lionfish Cookbook containing over fifty recipes.
REEF will hold a series of lionfish collecting workshops in the Carolinas, starting tomorrow night from 6 to 8 at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher (13.09.04). The workshop schedule for the rest of the Carolinas is as follows:
Thursday, September 5th, 2013 at 6pm at the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston
Monday, September 9th, 2013 at 6pm at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores