Flower Garden Banks Lionfish Invitational

I have posted previously about the lionfish invasion and the threat that it poses to marine ecosystems in the Western Atlantic. In an earlier post, I noted that there is increasing evidence that regular removals can be effective in controlling lionfish infestation, allowing native fish populations to recover. Removals are being undertaken via organized efforts such “lionfish derbies” and other forms of sanctioned fishing tournaments as well as via market approaches that create commercial incentives to harvest the fish.

While marine protection agencies are generally supportive of these efforts and are indeed engaging in removals themselves, they lack the data and evidence needed to make informed decisions about the optimal mix of approaches and the level of effort and resources needed to effectively control the invasion. I recently had the opportunity to participate in a research expedition aimed at helping to address this gap. I was fortunate enough to be selected to join 29 other volunteer citizen scientists, professional/semi-professional spear fishers, and marine scientists for a fish survey and lionfish culling effort in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Situated about 100 miles off the coast of Texas, the sanctuary is home to a unique ecosystem with almost 300 species of fish, 21 species of coral, and several other invertebrate species. Lionfish are being observed with increasing frequency within the sanctuary, a cause for concern by the sanctuary’s managers. They have previously undertaken periodic culling of lionfish, but the recent effort was the first time that removals were undertaken in a systematic fashion. Continue reading