When Life Gives You Lionfish…

Market-based approaches to controlling invasive lionfish populations were highlighted at a recent GEF event in Grenada.

La Paz Group contributor Phil Karp has long been our guide into marine ecosystems, with both citizen science and social entrepreneurship posts on his work with groups in Belize and other parts of the Caribbean focused on these goals.

This collaboration with Sarah Wyatt,  a colleague from the Global Environment Facility, illustrates the on-going market-based approaches to managing the invasive species while creating new cottage industry opportunities.

Seeing a lionfish while diving in the Caribbean is a cause for mixed emotions.  On the one hand, one marvels at the exquisite beauty of the fishes’ flowery fins and its amazing adaptability to a range of habitats, from shallow estuaries with low salinity to deep reef environments. But then you remember that these fish don’t belong in the Caribbean, and that the very versatility noted above makes them an invasive menace. Indeed, if the fish you are looking at is a female, she may be carrying up to 30,000 eggs, and may have thirty or more native fish or crustaceans in her stomach.

One of the many impacts of the Anthropocene era on global biodiversity is the increased spread of invasive species, like the lionfish, due to rapid globalization. With the United Nations Ocean Conference taking place in New York next week, the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and marine resources is high on the international agenda.  While long recognized as an environmental and biodiversity threat, invasive species also pose a threat to livelihoods, particularly in developing countries where incomes may be heavily dependent upon a single sector or product.

Traditionally, efforts to eradicate or control invasive species have been focused on public sector interventions.  But control efforts are often expensive and are either out of reach, or pose severe strains on limited budgets of developing countries.  Hence there has been growing attention to identification of market-based control approaches which create commercial incentives for removing the invaders, providing a financially sustainable means of control…

…Scientists and marine conservationists agree that the only way to control the lionfish invasion is human intervention – basically removing as many as possible.  Indeed, there is growing evidence that if lionfish populations can be kept at low levels, native fish populations recover rapidly

The good news is that lionfish are delicious (as attested by participants at the Grenada workshop, who had a chance to sample lionfish kebabs).  As such, the development of a commercial lionfish fishery is seen as the most effective market-focused control strategy.  The bad news is that lionfish can’t be harvested using standard large-scale fishing gear such as nets or lines. They either have to be hand-speared or hand-netted, which is very labor intensive and expensive. So, there is a need to somehow create additional incentives for removals. It is also necessary to create demand, as lionfish aren’t well known to consumers or restaurateurs.

GEF-supported initiatives in Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Belize have supported training of fishers on safe handling of lionfish, consumer education, and awareness raising among chefs and restaurants, and GEF Small Grants Program projects in Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines include eco-tourism components, enlisting divers to participate in lionfish hunts.

A particularly innovative initiative, also highlighted in Grenada, is the development of markets for lionfish jewelry.  This jewelry, made from parts of the fish that were otherwise discarded, not only raises landed value per fish creating additional incentive for removals, but also creates new income and empowerment opportunities for women in coastal communities that are negatively impacted by the invasion.  Lionfish jewelry initiatives have been supported directly by GEF Small Grants in Grenada and St. Vincent and Grenadines, and indirectly by a GEF project in Belize, where a vibrant association of lionfish jewelry artists has been established, comprised of women from coastal communities across the country.

Read the entire post here.


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