Divers sought for next week’s Lionfish tournament
Obesity and fatty-liver disease has begun to appear in Pacific Lionfish found in Bermuda waters but scientists have warned the Island must not become complacent in the fight against the invasive species.
And while next week’s Groundswell Lionfish Tournament, does not see as large a catch as is found in similar events in the Caribbean, it’s importance to the suppressing the invasion will see dozens diving in local waters to catch the fish.
The July 19 tournament will begin at sun-up and festivities will start at the Bermuda Ocean Science Institute (BIOS) at 2.30pm and end at 10pm. The weigh-in of the day’s catch is at 3pm.
Participants in the tournament must have a permit to kill the fish. the general public is invited to sample Lionfish meat cooked in a variety of ways and see handling demonstrations. The Lionfish’s spines are poisonous and once removed the flesh is edible.
Over the past two decades, the highly venomous Pacific fish has spread from Florida throughout the region. It has no natural predator in the Atlantic Ocean and can come to dominate an area’s environment, killing off many of the area’s vital species.
The problem has left entire reefs decimated, and with around twelve percent of Bermuda’s economy attributed dependant on the reefs, conservationists have warned it is a problem not to be taken lightly.
Marine scientists involved with the Lionfish Taskforce have noticed peculiar behaviours in the local population, said Matt Strong of Groundswell, especially for breeding cycles and the depths at which they congregate.
“[Bermuda] being so isolated, it took a while to get to us. On top of that we have a cold winter which slows down their breeding — that’s a theory, anyway,” Mr Strong explained. They’re not breeding as frequently, or they’re not able to reproduce in the same numbers, so that’s been a real blessing.”
But that blessing could be dangerous if taken as a reason to rest on our laurels in fighting an invading force that could potentially devour 90 percent of the local reef fish population, he added.
“We’re seeing them on deeper reefs here, which is probably worse. When people say, ‘We haven’t seen many on the reef’, it doesn’t mean they’re not there, it means they’re just not at depths where recreational divers and spearfisherman are seeing them.”
In deeper waters around 200 feet, lionfish are being found in far greater quantities, “hot spots” where they are the only predator to be found on a reef.
Lionfish Taskforce divers, he said, can kill 30 lionfish within the 25 minutes they are able to stay at such depths. That is more than one lionfish per minute.
The key is management. Lionfish are here to stay, said Mr Strong, and as long as they are around, a plan will need to be in place to prevent their numbers from reaching critical mass, at which point all could very well be lost.
“I’d like to think we’d never get to that point,” said Mr Strong, which is why he and other concerned citizens began the Groundswell tournament.
The numbers of lionfish culled in a single day are not extraordinary — around 100, compared to the thousands that are killed in similar derbys in the Caribbean — but the event serves a far greater purpose.
We saw an issue in terms of the lionfish invasion and we thought the best way was to have an event that culls the lionfish and also generates awareness of the problem. The thing is, Bermuda’s kind of behind in the invasion. We’re ahead in the awareness but behind in the actual invasion, which is the best position to be in.”
For more information on how you can participate, visit www.reefspect.com.
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