Lionfish chowder and lionfish cakes were served during the reception at BAMZ. *Photo by Chris Burvile
Lionfish chowder and lionfish cakes were served during the reception at BAMZ. *Photo by Chris Burvile

FRIDAY, OCT. 12: Making a commercially viable market out of Bermuda’s invasive lionfish will be a key component in combating the problem.

This is the view of overseas lionfish experts Lad Akins and Dr James Morris who have just led a major workshop on the island bringing together multiple government departments, scientists, environmentalists and dive operations.

The two-day workshop was organized by local marine conservation charity the Ocean Support Foundation (OSF) and as a result, a Bermuda Lionfish Control Taskforce was formed to include the invited members of the workshop.

Eat ‘em to beat ‘em

Presenting the outcome of the workshops, Director of Special Projects for the Florida-based Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) Mr Akins, said: “Eat ‘Em to Beat ‘Em is a Bermuda slogan that has worked its way throughout the entire Caribbean. Consumption and developing a commercial market may be one of the best things we can do to provide incentive to knock this population down. 

“Developing a commercial market for lionfish provides incentive for fishermen to go out, target lionfish and get them into the market.”

The presentation was made to a full audience at the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo on Wednesday evening where lionfish chowder and lionfish cakes were served during the reception.

Mr Akins asked the audience whether they enjoyed the food the answer was a resounding “yes”.

“It warrants its place on the menu — it is a very good eating fish,” he said. “Even if you are not a diver or a snorkeller, just a resident and consumer of fish you can help with this invasion by asking for lionfish when you go to the restaurant. There are fishermen now who are getting lionfish into the market the restaurants are paying for them to do that. You all can help. You can get a nice fish sandwich out of a lionfish!”

Mr Akin and Dr Morris, an ecologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have worked with numerous jurisdictions in the Western Atlantic to help to develop lionfish control plans.

During their Bermuda workshop they provided training on lionfish monitoring methods, explored what assets Bermuda has to control them and offered a list of research priority needs that students can use in years to come.

Dr Morris said: “Most importantly we’ve developed a framework for addressing the invasion through a Bermuda lionfish taskforce and that is how the community will be involved — from NGOs and government to tourism and dive operators — we need as much representation as we can on that.

“One of the best things we have encountered is the sense of community and friendship that you have being such a close knit community — if anyone can make an impact and manage them in a way to protect and conserve marine resources and really use lionfish as an education tool to the public — it’s here.”

Assessing the numbers of lionfish is a priority in the battle according to Mr Akins. He detailed a recently published paper by graduate PhD student Stephanie Green of Simon Fraser University showing the impacts of lionfish on Bahamian reef sites.

“In a two-year period between 2008 and 2010 the average decline of those reef areas was 65 per cent across all of her study sites,” explained Mr Akins.

“Some of those sites had 95 per cent decline in the prey fish community, by that I mean every fish smaller than 15 cms. That’s the kind of impact they are having — it’s a pretty dire situation.”

He talked of an acoustic tagging project he is carrying out in Cape Eleuthera in the Bahamas which could be a useful tool in Bermuda. The results of the tags will be available in December.

Mr Akins discussed some capture methods during the talk. While lionfish are showing up in traps, in particular lobster traps, there are no specific traps designed for lionfish.

He explained that citizen volunteers should be a major part of the solution predominantly using two methods — spearing and netting.

“As people we are the top predator in the ocean and many times we have had considerable impact on our fish stocks in wiping them out. Even the stocks we want to protect are in decline and here’s a fish that we know we need to remove and it is up to us.

“One of the messages you should take home is that lionfish control can be effective. If it wasn’t we probably wouldn’t be in this room now.”

Dr Morris and Mr Akins also announced the released of a new lionfish control guide edited by Dr Morris which includes input from over 40 different experts.