Nature Foundation warns against consumption lionfish

POSTED: 07/17/13 1:07 PM

St. Maarten – The Nature Foundation has reacted to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill on the invasion of lionfish in regional waters and its recommendation that people consume the fish.

The Caribbean’s lionfish problem will not get better without vigilant management of the species the study has concluded with professor of biology in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences and lead investigator of the study John Bruno saying “lionfish are here to stay, and it appears that the only way to control them is by fishing them.”
On July 15, 2010 the Nature Foundation recorded its first specimen in local waters and since then has killed approximately 2500 lionfish in St. Maarten’s territorial waters. The foundation does not agree with the new research’s recommendation for lionfish to be consumed.
“In the beginning we used to record every kill and analyze the stomach contents,” foundation manager Tadzio Bervoets explained.
This activity was conducted with the aid of researchers from the Netherlands who were stationed at the foundation.
It was during those formative years that the foundation was able to determine the risk the fish poses to the biodiversity of our local reef ecosystems.
“In 2011 we conducted a study on a sample size of two hundred fish from various locations around the island and we found that forty percent of the sample size tested positive for ciguatoxin. Ciguatoxin is a bio-accumulative toxin that is found in predatory fish and is the reason why we do not eat barracuda and large jacks for example. The toxin is locally referred to as fish poisoning. Considering that the lionfish is poisonous, although only in its spines, we wanted to reassure the population that the animal was safe to eat. However with the result of the study we, as an organization, were not comfortable with recommending that people eat the animal risking being made ill by Ciguatera poisoning.”
Bervoets admitted that the foundation’s position is unpopular in some quarters and has been met with resistance internationally.
“We have received some negative feedback from the international community regarding this; yes the most effective way to control the fish is to commercially fish them, however it takes only one individual to eat a poisoned fish and the finger pointing would start alleging that we encouraged the population to eat the animal. We are now working on a large scale study with the French Caribbean and the BVI and USVI who have also had the same results. The FDA in America recently also issued a warning regarding the consumption of lionfish.”
While the origin of the species is debated, some point to a Miami aquarium damaged by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the red lionfish, which is native to the Indo-Pacific region, have become a terrorizing force for Caribbean marine species.
Lionfish are caught and eaten in mainstream restaurants — once the fish’s poisonous spines have been removed.
“Active and direct management, perhaps in the form of sustained culling, appears to be essential to curbing local lionfish abundance and efforts to promote such activities should be encouraged,” the study found.
The Nature Foundation was asked whether it’s possible to rid our waters of lion fish infestation.
“Due to our efforts and those of the volunteers that join us in trying to control lionfish we have seen a drastic reduction of the animal in the Marine Park and on shallower areas surrounding St. Maarten. We used to respond three to four times a week to a lionfish sighting and that has dropped to about twice a month. From depths ranging from the shoreline to about 30 meters we have been effective in controlling the invasion,” the environmentalist said.
With the cooperation of local fishermen the Nature Foundation has been researching the best ways to trap lionfish in deeper water. Today was told that during the summer months it seems that the fish congregate to spawn and fishermen have been bringing in many large pregnant females. This prompted the foundation to now target areas in deeper waters known to serve as breeding grounds for the fish.
“In the meantime we will continue to hunt the animals. What we have been doing is presenting the animals to sharks, rays, moray eels etc. in the hope that they will acquire a taste for the animal and start hunting them themselves,” Bervoets said.
In 2010 while as manager of the St. Eustatius Marine Park, Bervoets wrote the Lionfish Response Plan which has been adapted by all islands in the Dutch Caribbean and parts of which have been used by Marine Protected Areas in St. Lucia and Anguilla.
“When I came to St. Maarten the plan was adapted to reflect the unique characteristics of the St. Maarten Marine Ecosystem and thus the St. Maarten Lionfish Response Plan was published and presented to government,” he stated.
The Nature Foundation was also part of the initial meeting held in Cancun Mexico in August 2010 where a wide scale response mechanism to combat the invasion for the wider Caribbean region was developed.
Consequently, the summer of 2011 and 2012 were utilized for the hosting of various stakeholder meetings with fishermen and dive operators. Since then the Nature Foundation has trained many people to join in the campaign to hunt and kill lionfish.

Did you like this? Share it:
Nature Foundation warns against consumption lionfish by

Comments are closed.