I’ve posted previously about the emergence of lionfish jewelry as one of several market-based approaches to controlling the invasion of this non-native species which poses an unprecedented threat to marine ecosystems in the Western Atlantic.
Last month I had the opportunity to make a presentation on lionfish jewelry at a special workshop on lionfish management that was held during the annual conference of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, in Panama. The conference program also included a full-day lionfish research symposium and a lionfish research poster session, both of which gave me an opportunity to learn more about the science aspects of the lionfish invasion and some of the latest findings on lionfish biology and behavior and to meet some of the leading researchers on these subjects.
The lionfish management workshop, which was organized by the United Nations Environment Program’s Caribbean Regional Activity Center on Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW-RC) and the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), brought together marine scientists, managers of marine protected areas, fishermen, and representatives of international organizations to share experiences and lessons learned with respect to strategies for controlling the invasion.
It was very illuminating to learn about the range of control strategies that are being implemented around the region and the differences in experiences and approaches from one country to another. I was particularly interested in experiences with market-based approaches. It was fascinating to hear, for example, that in the case of the Cayman Islands, the Department of the Environment’s campaign to promote consumption of lionfish has been so successful that some restaurants are importing lionfish from other countries, undercutting prices charged by local fishers and prompting the need for “Culled in Cayman” branding!
It was also interesting to hear about experiments in Bermuda to catch lionfish using traps. As harvesting by means of spears and hand nets is both labor intensive and limited by depth, traps have been seen as a way of reducing cost of harvesting as well as removing lionfish in deeper water, where densities have been found to be quite high. A big concern however, has been risk of by-catch and/or “ghost fishing” if traps break loose from their lines. It is precisely for these reasons that many countries in the Caribbean have banned use of fish traps and are reluctant to re-introduce them for use with lionfish. I have been intrigued by the prospect of developing “smart traps” that employ motion sensors and shape recognition technology so that they will only open for lionfish, and will alert fishers when the trap is occupied. I learned however that the Bermuda Department of Environmental Protection has had success with a much lower-tech design, using non-baited traps (lionfish are attracted by the structure rather than bait) and escape gaps to reduce risk of by-catch.
My presentation at the lionfish management workshop provided an opportunity to report on some of the empirical data on lionfish jewelry markets that I’ve been collecting in collaboration with lionfish jewelry proponents in Belize, The Bahamas, the Grenadines, and Grenada. One of the principal motivations for promoting lionfish jewelry has been to up return to fishers and in doing so boost their incentive to target lionfish. Using the data we’ve collected on sales price of lionfish for meat, and the prices at which fins and spines are being sold for use in jewelry, we were able to demonstrate that the total landed value per fish is being increased by up to 61% (see Table and Chart above). As I’ve noted in previous posts, lionfish jewelry production also has important ancillary benefits including women’s empowerment, new livelihood opportunities, and raised awareness about the lionfish invasion.
The combination of empirical data on the economic benefits and visuals on lionfish jewelry designs really got the attention of participants at the workshop. It was very gratifying to see jewelry production being taken seriously (including by some of the leading researchers on lionfish) as an element of broader lionfish management strategies. It was also great to gather a lot of new ideas on how to develop markets for the jewelry.
Speaking of which, the conference also afforded an opportunity to sell some of the jewelry produced by members of the Belize women’s lionfish jewelers organization which has recently been established as a follow-up to a workshop I helped to deliver this past August, in collaboration with Blue Ventures . We were able to sell nearly fifty pieces of jewelry in less than two hours, netting more than one thousand dollars which went directly to the artists. This further cemented my conviction that there is a large international market for the jewelry, particularly among those who have an interest in marine conservation.
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