*Photo by Chris Burville
*Photo by Chris Burville

As the fourth annual Groundswell Lionfish Tournament approaches, a research team has been busy forming a long-term management plan with a view to keeping numbers of the invasive species to a minimum.

The team, made up of representatives from various organizations including the Lionfish Task Force, the Ocean Support Foundation, the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo/BZS, are working on six specific subjects.

Five of these support the overarching goal of assessing the ecological impact of lionfish on Bermuda’s marine ecosystem.

Their research will help to create a targeted management plan along with the development of lionfish traps by the DEP.

To assess the ecological impact, the team are trying determine the numbers, distribution and demographics of lionfish through underwater visual surveys at different depths across around 20 sites.

All fish found are being dissected to discover stomach contents, tissue samples, size, gender etc. So far they have found two to three lionfish per hectare — about the same amount as sites found in their natural, Indo-Pacific habitats.

There are far fewer in shallow waters though at depths of 200ft there have been much larger numbers — higher than found in the Bahamas.

They are determining their feeding ecology and preliminary figures suggest that millions of fish are being eaten by lionfish each year, including the little known red night shrimp.

Isotope analysis has shown a feeding overlap between lionfish and Bermuda’s dusky sharks, meaning competition for the sharks.

They will determine the reproductive condition — so far research has shown the majority of females are mature adults, many capable of spawning.

They will determine growth rates, size-at-age and longevity using ear bones that have rings like tree trunks to determine age.

This helps the team to figure out how old they might be at a certain size, how long they live, and how fast they grow.

Using genetic analysis, the researchers hope to determine how many lionfish are spawned in Bermuda or arrive from other parts of the Atlantic, Caribbean, or Gulf of Mexico.

It’s very important to know how many be still be arriving and how successful local lionfish have been.

Those five elements are plugged into a computer, which can then tell us what the lionfish population will look like in a few years, how the reef fish populations have responded, and even how many lionfish need to be caught each year to minimize their population and their impact.

The sixth element involves the design of the lionfish traps which is in its early stages. So far 1,243 were caught in lobster traps this past season.

Lionfish Tournament details:

  • The Groundswell Lionfish Tournament opens for participants at sun up.
  • The public afterparty takes place at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences from 2:30pm. All boats must be at the BIOS dock for the 3pm weigh-in.
  • General public can arrive from 2:30pm there will be lionfish handling, lionfish tasting, live music and Dj, Gosling’s bar and a bouncy castle for the little ones. The event runs until 7:30pm.