|Pterois miles read sea Dahab (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
|Pterois radiata is endemic to the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
|Antennata Lionfish, picture taken in Zoo Schönbrunn, Vienna, Austria. Français : Un Pterois antennata. Photo prise dans le zoo de Schönbrunn, à Vienne, en Autriche. 日本語: ネッタイミノカサゴ。オーストリア、ウィーンのシェーンブルン動物園にて。 中文: 红须狮子鱼，摄于奥地利维也纳美泉宫动物园。 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
BY LIZETTE ALVAREZ
MIAMI – They eat anything, reproduce copiously and adapt effortlessly. And they have become as ubiquitous and pesky as rats- only prettier and more conniving.
Nearly three decades after a lone venomous lionfish was spotted in the ocean near here, the species has invaded the Southern seaboard, staking a claim on Florida, the Gulf Coast, the Caribbean, and even parts of South America. Spreading gradually at first, then frenetically from 2005 onward, lionfish have become the most numerous marine nonnative invasive species in the world, scientists said.
Along the way, the predators, which hail from the Pacific and Indian Oceans and can grow here to 50 centimeters long, are wreaking havoc on delicate reefs and probably further depleting precious snapper and grouper stocks.
There is no stopping them now, salt-water experts said. But hoping to at least slow them, marine biologist and government agencies have been intensifying efforts recently to spearfish them out of certain areas that harbor fragile reefs.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has banned the importation of lionfish and prohibited the breeding of the fish, steps that experts said will focus attention on the problem. The commission also lifted fishing licensing requirements to hunt lionfish and even started an app so that people can report lionfish sightings.
“Eradication is not on the table, but local control has proven to be very effective,” said Lad Akins, special projects director for the Reef Environmental Education Foundation. “They are what many people call a near-perfect invader.”
Lionfish derbies, or rodeos, seem to have the best success rate. Groups of divers gather for a day of spearfishing; recently, 22 divers speared 573 lionfish in one day in the Florida Keys.
There is talk of offering bounties, but money is scarce.
Then there is the gourmet approach. Some Florida restaurants are now buying lionfish, which are light and flaky when cooked. Once there is a large enough market for them, scientists said, fishermen will pay attention and help haul them out of the sea.
“The tricky part is catching them,” said Maia McGuire of the University of Florida. “It’s labor intensive and requires divers, gear and boats.”
Scientists are finding that limiting the number of lionfish on a reef – as opposed to culling them all – will allow the reef and its fish to recover.
Scientists said lionfish wound up in the Atlantic Ocean when people bought them for their aquariums and eventually freed them in the ocean, where they do not pose a problem in their native waters, most likely because they are eaten by more powerful predators that keep the population in check. Here, the predators seemed befuddled by them.
The fish are gluttonous, stuffing 50 to 60 baby fish into their stomachs. Females can each release two million eggs a year.
“They can spawn as frequently as every four days, which is really crazy,” Ms. McGuire said, then wondered,” Are we going to end up with reefs just covered with lionfish?”
Taken from TODAY Saturday Edition, November 1, 2014