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More resources needed for lionfish battle

More money and personnel are needed to fight the battle against invasive lionfish, according to chairman of the Bermuda Lionfish Taskforce James Gleason.

Addressing the Hamilton Rotary, Mr Gleason said it was unlikely Bermuda would ever be able to completely exterminate the species but the population could potentially be controlled.

He said while research was ongoing to find a “silver bullet”, at the moment the best approach was to make lionfish a commercially viable target for local fishermen, saying the species was an excellent food source.

“If we can come up with a way to effectively trap the lionfish and create a commercial fishery, there's no better way to overfish a fish than through a commercial fishery,” he said.

Lionfish are native to the Indian and Pacific oceans but were accidentally introduced to the Atlantic in the early 1990s. With no natural predators, the species quickly spread throughout the Caribbean, first appearing in Bermudian waters in 2000.

The species breed extremely quickly with females producing as many as two million eggs per year once they reach maturity.

And because lionfish are not native to the Atlantic, local fish do not recognise the species as a predator, allowing lionfish to gorge themselves - and disrupt the symbiotic balance around our coral reefs.

Mr Gleason said work was ongoing to create a lionfish-specific trap but local lobster fishermen have already had some success catching the species.

“This year they reported during the first half of the season catching over a thousand, and that's just what's reported,” Mr Gleason said. “There were likely a lot more caught by other fishermen who didn't report them.

“We want to design lionfish specific traps. We don't want to catch lobsters, we don't want to try to catch any other kind of fish. The big problem with trapping is the bycatch. A lot of people have done trapping experiments in Jamaica, South Florida and the Caribbean, and they are just at a loss because the bycatch is so high it just isn't working.

“We have got two or three designs that we want to try out and we are working towards doing that now but that trapping programme really requires a lot of help.”

He said the programme was partially funded by the Darwin Plus grant and the Department of Environmental Protection, but they still require additional funds and personnel to run the initiatives.

“The lobster fishermen who are helping out with this trapping experiment are volunteers,” he said. “We need to find a way to help these volunteer fisherman pay for the fuel they use and make up for the income that they lose. We also need observers on each and every one of those boats to record data about where the trap was dropped, when it was dropped, what was caught, help retrieve the cameras.”

He said that so far 300 people have earned permits to spear lionfish within one mile of the Island, but many do not have their own boats.

“We need people to come together and create programmes to connect divers with boats,” he said.

Invasive lionfish are a problem in Bermuda's waters.

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Published March 20, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated March 20, 2014 at 11:33 pm)

More resources needed for lionfish battle

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