Lionfish Move In
Venomous Fish Could Spell Trouble for Native Fish and Dive Industry

July 1st, 2009
by Thomas Tomczyk

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Diver Emily Petely Jones surfaces with the captured lionfish.

Diver Emily Petely Jones surfaces with the captured lionfish.

A Lionfish has been found and caught by fisherman in Punta Gorda. This is the first known example of this species to have been found in the Bay Islands and the species’ arrival spells trouble for indigenous fish native to the archipelago.

Emily Petely Jones, a dive instructor with Subway Watersports, was alerted that a strange, not seen before, species of fish was spotted by a diver in Punta Gorda. The description of the fish matched that of lionfish, a species that Jones came to know while working in the dive industry in the Cayman Islands.

On May 25 Jones went with a catch net to the location in Punta Gorda where Subway Watersports’ diver Selvin Gonzales saw it the day before. The fish was easily spotted at around 20 feet of depth and brought up slowly, over 10 minutes, to assure it would not be hurt by decompression.

Roatan Marine Park has contacted dive shops throughout Roatan to be on the alert for lionfish and report sightings to their office. The Punta Gorda specimen has been placed in a tank at Anthony’s Key Resort’s Maya Cay facility.

Lionfish, also known as Dragon Fish, Turkey, or Fire Fish, have distinct long and separate venomous spines; they are typically striped and colorful. While lionfish are extremely venomous, they are rarely fatal to humans. A sting to a human is likely to cause extreme pain, headache, breathing difficulties and vomiting. A hot compress applied to the area of the sting should help neutralize the venom.

The fish originated in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and their presence and spread in the Caribbean is suspected to come from six-seven individuals that escaped from a commercial aquarium after Hurricane Andrew ravaged south Florida in 1992.

Over the last 17 years the lionfish used the gulfstream to transport themselves from South Florida to as far north as Rhode Island and as far south as the Outer Antilles. In the last several years Lionfish specimens have been spotted on Ambergris Cay, Belize and on Cayman Islands.

An aggressive predator and eater, lionfish corner their prey using their large fins and swallow their prey whole. Grouper is the only known predator of lionfish. Studies found that the lionfish’s appetite is voracious and they can eat as many as 20 fish in 30 minutes. Parrotfish population could likely suffer as a result of lionfish arrival with the result that algae would be less controlled with resulting damage to the reef.

“They are good eating,” says Jones about the fish that can fetch as much as $100 at pet stores in US. Still, the news of the arrival of the invasive species spells bad news. Bay Islands already is home to several invasive land species: rats, mice, cats, armadillos, but according to Roatan Marine Park, the Lionfish is the first invasive marine species to make it to the archipelago. [/private]

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