Lionfish Invasion Threatens Native Species on Atlantic Reefs

Image: Lionfish Invasion Threatens Native Species on Atlantic Reefs

Tuesday, 22 Oct 2013 06:39 AM

By Michael Mullins

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A Lionfish invasion is threatening native species and underwater habitats in the Atlantic warn scientists, who fear there is little stopping the seemingly all-consuming and fast-reproducing carnivorous fish that has only one known predator – humans.

A native to the Asian Pacific, the colorful, yet venomous striped fish has been eating large amounts of prey throughout the Atlantic at record numbers, with the potential to wipe out 90 percent of a reef it inhabits, CNN reported.

"The lionfish invasion is probably the worst environmental disaster the Atlantic will ever face," Graham Maddocks, president and founder of Ocean Support Foundation that helps reduce the lionfish population, told CNN.

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First observed in the Atlantic several decades ago, Lionfish can now be found across the Bahamas, the Caribbean and in the Amazon, having spread as far north as the waters off North Carolina.

In addition to having no known predator, one of the reasons for their massive expansion is their reproduction, being able to generate between 30,000 and 40,000 eggs over the course of several days while reaching sexual maturity within one year.

Lionfish are now "the most abundant top-level predator on some coral reefs (in the Atlantic)," Ecologist James Morris with the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science told CNN.

If allowed to continue at their current growth rate, Morris warned that their presence will bring a "big change in biodiversity" to the region and potentially be a disaster for native species.

In an attempt to reduce the ever-increasing number of Lionfish throughout the Atlantic, some are attempting to make them into a delicacy and serve them up on the dinner menu at local restaurants.

"It's deadly, but it's one of most delicious fish you'll ever eat," David Link, manager of the Food Shack in Jupiter, told Florida's Sun Sentinel.

Link, whose restaurant serves Lionfish on a limited basis, is one of nine such establishments that are offering the ocean predator to its customers, the Sun Sentinel noted.

The only problem is Lionfish are not easy to catch, which is why so few restaurants presently offer it on the menu. They mostly lurk along the bottom of the reef where they are caught by spear fisherman or the occasional lobster trap, making them highly undesirable to commercial fishing operations that can reel them in in large numbers.

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One feature of the Lionfish that shouldn't be a concern is its venom, which is along is spine, and is removed while the fish is being filleted. If, however, any should be missed, it is said to cook away on the pan effectively rendering the fish harmless to people so long as it is prepared properly.

Related stories:

'Frankenfish' Record: 17-Pound, 6-Ounce Snakehead Caught in Virginia

Asian Carp Now in Great Lakes, Says Study, Threatening $7B Fishing Industry

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