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Lionfish solution involving lobster traps proposed

The lionfish could pose a risk to Bermuda’s native fish stocks (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Lobster fishermen should be working with the Government to continue the fight against Bermuda’s invasive lionfish population.

This is the view of Kevin Winter, a veteran hook-and-line fisherman who is concerned about dwindling fish stocks and believes that lobster traps could be adapted to tackle the problem.

Mr Winter said that data is crucial and that the Government should prioritise finding out how many of the invasive species are in the island’s waters. Lionfish have been documented to feast voraciously on Bermuda’s native juvenile fish and have no wild predators here to keep their numbers in check.

The Fishermen’s Association of Bermuda is supportive of the need to gather more data given the potential impact on the livelihoods of its members.

Mr Winter wrote an opinion piece in today’s edition of The Royal Gazette suggesting that existing lobster pots could have modified entry and exit funnels that aim to trap lionfish. He added that the potential of by-catch was worth the risk to gather the data needed.

He said: “This is an idea I have come up with by looking at the way people have approached it here in the past and knowing that lobster traps can catch them, but there will be by-catch like barbers and coneys.

“On the other hand, the lionfish might be eating 20 barbers in a day.

“We need to get these traps and put them down. By reducing the size of the doors you will have a good opportunity to tag and release, and look at populations of smaller lobster.

“Unless you put your nose in and find out we will never know. Anything that comes out of this must be data-driven.”

Jamie Walsh, secretary for the FAB, agreed that not enough data was available and that more needs to be done.

She said: “It's great that fishermen continue to put forward potential marine stewardship ideas, and FAB would definitely welcome exploring any opportunity to get real research and understanding of the lionfish population.

“No one really has any good estimation of the current population, and with the possibility that fertilised eggs and/or small specimens might be arriving on the Gulf current, it's not likely to be an easy fix.

“Fishermen would be great potential partners in any research project. There just needs to be adequate funding in place and a spirit of true collaboration in the design, implementation and subsequent policy decisions that might derive from the project.”

Mr Winter suggested in his opinion piece that the lobster fleet target the lionfish with existing pots modified with five-inch funnel hoops and extra escape slots up to two inches wide and very tall.

He said: “This being a best guess after studying and measuring big 17-inch specimens of lionfish. Obviously, the real trap operators may have significant input on this crucial aspect. These measurements would have to be assessed periodically to achieve the objective of maximising lionfish culling.”

Ms Walsh added: “We'd have to do a deeper dive to discuss the viability of this proposed methodology and discuss further with our members who specialise in lobster traps."

There have been a number of public-led efforts to rid the ocean of the Indo-Pacific fish, which are believed to have made their way into Bermudian waters by way of discarded home aquariums.

In the now-defunct Groundswell Lionfish Tournament, which carried the tag line “Eat ‘Em to Beat ‘Em”, fishermen would compete to catch as many as possible. Regarded as a conservation effort, there were no limits on the size of the fish or the catch.

The Bermuda Lion Fish Task Force winter derby is still being held and runs throughout the year.

Individuals wishing to catch lionfish by spear must have a special lionfish culling permit.

The permit also allows culling with the aid of scuba gear in areas where fishing would not otherwise be permitted.

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Published August 28, 2023 at 7:53 am (Updated August 28, 2023 at 8:04 am)

Lionfish solution involving lobster traps proposed

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