Lionfish Control and Management

Biological invasions are considered to be one of the main threats to biodiversity worldwide. The Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans/miles), currently invading the western Atlantic, is predicted to be the most ecologically damaging marine invasion ever recorded.

The fish — likely introduced into the Atlantic through the global aquarium trade — were first reported in Florida around the mid 1980s and by 2000, their numbers had increased considerably as their range expanded along the Atlantic coast of the U.S. By 2004, lionfish had become established in the Bahamas, and from there they increased their range rapidly. In 2007, they were recorded in the Turks and Caicos and Cuba, and by 2008, they had reached the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, U S. Virgin Islands, Belize and Barbados. The Caribbean and Yucatan currents aided the dispersal of lionfish larvae into the Gulf of Mexico, and further south in Venezuela from other Caribbean locations where lionfish were well established (i.e., Cuba, Jamaica, Cayman Islands).

Early detection and rapid response are more effective, less costly, and less risky than interventions once the invaders have become established and are interacting with the native community. With clear evidence that lionfish can no longer be eradicated, lionfish removals by concerned individuals are currently taking place through organized lionfish derbies and tournaments haphazardly throughout the Caribbean. Although little progress has been made concerning monitoring of effects, removal efforts have provided insightful results for population control.

TCC researchers Dr. Laís Chaves and Dr. Stephanie Green act as lead consultants on TCC’s Lionfish Control and Management Program (LCMP). Stephanie Green, PhD has spent the better part of six years researching and documenting the impacts of lionfish in the Bahamas and in the Greater Caribbean, partnering with the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), and authoring in the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute’s (GCFI) Invasive Lionfish: A Guide to Control and Management (2012) and in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Lionfish Dissection Guide: Techniques and Applications (2012).

Dr. Lais Chaves has been leading TCC’s LCMP in Bocas del Toro, Panama since 2010, a year after the first documented sighting of lionfish in this region. Research here monitored lionfish and grouper density from 2010 – 2014 with the involvement of TCC researchers and students of the Coral Reef Ecology course. The work has been presented at three international conferences: the 67th Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute Meeting12th International Coral Reef Symposium and the 4th Brazilian Congress of Marine Biology (see image below).

The next step is to work with the local Bocas del Toro community to facilitate the development of a community-based lionfish control and monitoring program. The aim is to collaborate with the local community in an effort to maintain their primary sources of income — fisheries and tourism — which are both largely threatened by the lionfish invasion.

For more information on TCC's Lionfish Control and Management Program please contact info@tropicalcc.org

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