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Lionfish in Cozumel

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Postby underwatercolours » Thu May 20, 2010 9:35 am

I just returned from my 9th photo workshop and 34th trip to Cozumel and am very concerned about how many lionfish I saw. When they first showed up there several years ago the folks from the marine park were a bit perplexed about what to do about them and discouraged anyone, including the local DMs from killing them. Now it is kind of a free-for-all and the DMs do spear them when they can. Some of them have been injured in the process. The DMs there have enough to do already, as there are often new divers to keep an eye on. Chasing lionfish distracts them from this and it could become a safety issue too.

The rocky shoreline in front of Scuba Club Cozumel is some of the best shore diving in Cozumel, known for its many juveniles of nearly everything we see on the reefs. Its Cozumel muck diving at its best. I found at least six lionfish there. I did kill two of them and captured two others. It was a tough thing to do. We have always protected the fish and the reefs. To now try to kill a pretty little fish is difficult, but unfortunately very necessary.

The ongoing problem is that they are thriving in the deeper areas where divers don't go, and will continue to move up to the shallower reefs where they'll be eventually caught or killed. The locals are now trying to feed them to the groupers and eels to teach them to acquire a taste for the fish. Right now they don't recognize the lionfish as food. I did see a small eel snatch a dead lionfish 3x it's size, so this might be working.

They also have fishing tournaments just for the lionfish and I've heard there are some recipe books coming out to encourage eating them. I heard that the last winner had caught 140+ lionfish on his boat alone!

I know this is happening all over the Caribbean, not just Cozumel. I don't have any answers or suggestions, but awareness is the first step.

Join my next underwater photography workshop at Scuba Club Cozumel in July 2011.
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Postby scottg » Thu May 20, 2010 10:10 am

Thanks for the information Bonnie. It would be interesting to find out what the normal range is of a Lionfish. Perhaps if the numbers of adult Lionfish can be limited in the most popular reefs it will help preserve the fish there.

Is this species most active at night? Perhaps more night dives can be encouraged to find them.

Scott Gietler Owner/Editor, Underwater Photography Guide & Bluewater Photo

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Postby smb2 » Thu May 20, 2010 2:35 pm

Around most of the Caribbean inhabited islands there are few large predators left to take on the LF invasion. Large Groupers, Sharks etc are all fished out.
Here in Curacao there are no Nassau, Tiger or Marbled Groupers to speak of. Lion fish that have been taken here so far have not had consistent stomach contents to know if they are eating selectively. A few dead small groupers and Green Morays have had LF in their stomachs. Cause and effect? Not known.
A lot of field research needs to be done to establish what effect they are having. Are they eating each other ?
Have they replaced the other missing natural predators?
Given your long time association with the Cozumel underwater scene, did you see a drastic decrease in numbers of juveniles?
Personally if culling the herd helps I think we should form a business and rent ourselves to island governments as Lion Fish busters. Take it out of the hands of
DM and locals. Just let our group of "trained professionals" :lol: come in and take as many as we can in 2-3 weeks and then move on to the next island. That way we can spend the whole year diving different islands throughout the Caribbean and get paid for it.
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Postby DevilDiver » Sun May 23, 2010 8:41 am

I have a similar report, our last trip 02/2010 we were shocked to see so many Lionfish (mainly juveniles) on the outer and inner reefs. We found a total of six with 1 killed, 2 captured and the others unable to get to.

Captured Lionfish - Dive Site: C-53 Cozumel, Mexico
Camera: Sea & Sea DX 1G
Exposure: 0.01 sec (1/100)
Aperture: f/5.7

The Indo-pacific Red Lionfish Lionfish (Pterois volitans) have been documented along the entire US East Coast from Florida through Massachusetts, east to Bermuda and south throughout the Bahamas and in other Caribbean nations such as Turks and Caicos and Cuba. The expansion has been extremely rapid and exponential in scope.
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