A lionfish invasion in the Atlantic Ocean is causing scientists to worry. The venomous, fast reproducing fish are no native to the Atlantic and they will consume anything and everything in their path.
With human beings as their only known predators, the lionfish are able to wipe out 90 percent of a reef. For places like Bermuda, that means a huge loss both intrinsically and economically.
CNN reports that Graham Maddocks, president and founder of Ocean Support Foundation, explained, “The lionfish invasion is probably the worst environmental disaster the Atlantic will ever face.”
Maddocks and his foundation work with the government and research agencies to help reduce the lionfish population in Bermuda. However, they believe the problem is only starting to escalate. The fish were first recorded decades ago and their population has ballooned since then.
The fish can produce 30,000 to 40,000 eggs every few days and reach sexual maturity by one year old. They can be found today in the Amazon, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, and the waters near North Carolina.
So, why are lionfish invading the Atlantic if they weren’t supposed to be there in the first place? Well, ask Florida pet owners. DNA evidence collected by marine biologists traces all lionfish in the Atlantic to only six to eight females.
Because humans are the problem, and the lionfish’s only predator, scientists will usually suggest we take care of the problem. The Sun-Sentinel notes that some have already started. Nine Florida restaurants are serving lionfish, mostly on a limited basis, as a way of doing their part, when they can.
At the Food Shack in Jupiter, Manager David Link commented, “[Lionfish is] deadly, but it’s one of the most delicious fish you’ll ever eat.” Many restaurants would like to make lionfish a regular menu item but they haven’t been able to find a steady supply. The pretty, prickly fish prefers to hang out at the bottom of the ocean and avoids fishing nets.
Still, Lat Adkins, director of special projects for non-profit marine conservation group REEF, believes that where there’s a will, there’s a way. If enough restaurants express the wish for lionfish on their menus, fisherman would be more likely to catch more of them, potentially making a dent in the invasion. Adkins added:
“We certainly want to see lionfish in more restaurants because as it goes into the market place, it creates a demand. Anything that removes them out of the water is a good thing. Lionfish are the biggest threat to ecosystem, not only in Florida, but also the Caribbean. We all know this is a problem, so let’s speed up the process.”
However, Maddocks doesn’t think eating the fish will be enough to stop them. He explained, “I don’t know if we can stop the lionfish invasion. This isn’t a battle we can win, we can only maintain.”
[Image via ShutterStock]