Lionfish Trap Tests in Pensacola Show Promise

Lionfish traps are currently being tested in the waters off of Pensacola.
Photo by Dr. Steve Gittings

There is no shortage of lionfish posts here, as a quick search of the site will show. Off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, we’re encouraged to hear that there is good news from the trapping scene – rather than speargun hunting, which has certain limits. Although we aren’t told how the tested traps avoid catching other fish than the target, it sounds like progress is being made. Jeremy Morrison reports:

Eighteen miles out into the Gulf of Mexico, lying in wait about a hundred feet deep, are a collection of contraptions that have Steve Gittings “pretty encouraged” and “really kinda jazzed.”

“I’m kinda pleasantly surprised about what we found in Pensacola,” said Gittings, science coordinator for the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Sanctuary.

Since July, Gittings and a his collaborators have been conducting tests on some prototypes of a lionfish trap he designed. In late August, the scientist wrote a report detailing what he considers to be the initial successes revealed during this summer’s testing.

“Lionfish love structure,” Gittings explained. “It just made sense that you’d leave a structure and when you brought up the structure they’d be in there.”

Gittings’ traps are based on a fairly simple design. The four-foot-squares consist of PVC frames, a bucket and a curtain that can be raised and lowered. The traps remain open — allowing fish to enter and exit — until the curtain is closed and the trap is raised to the surface.

The traps were designed to mimic a structure, such as an artificial reef of some kind, which lionfish are known to congregate around. This summer’s tests involved placing traps nearby existing artificial reefs — three chicken coops — in an attempt to lure away resident lionfish.

Earlier in the summer, Gittings and his team were seeing encouraging results when traps were left for shorter periods of time. After soaking for a day or two the traps capture about 35 percent of the lionfish they attract away from a structure, meaning that about 35 percent are still in the trap at the time it would be pulled.

But after a month on the bottom, the traps have performed much better. After soaking for that much time, about 87 percent of the fish attracted to the trap remain inside of it.

“At first pass it’s pretty exciting,” said Anna Clark, of Coast Watch Alliance.

Coast Watch, a local organization focused on fighting the invasion of lionfish, is keeping an eye on Gittings’ traps. The group dove down for a look in late August — “we didn’t shoot any lionfish, we just got video” — and liked what they saw.

“Some of them seemed to be really hunkered down,” Clark said.

Lionfish have thus far proved difficult to catch at anything resembling a commercial rate, with divers needing to spear each one of the invasive fish individually in an attempt to keep their numbers down and lessen the environmental impact the species has on the ecosystem.

Read the rest of the article at Sands Paper.

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