The Gulf of Mexico is under attack. Daily its waters are overfished, and polluted, but one of its greatest threats comes from a single species of fish, the lionfish. You might not have heard of the lionfish before, they aren’t native to the Gulf. The lionfish is a very destructive invasive species, wreaking havoc on the fragile ecosystem of the Gulf waters. Perfectly suited to survive in the environment off the U.S. coast, and with no natural predators, the lionfish are thriving. More than likely introduced by careless aquarium owners, the lionfish population has exploded. Unfortunately success for the lionfish means that other native fish species are facing more competition, and have a grim future.
When you look at a lionfish, they’re actually quite impressive, in a scary sort of way. They have long flowing dorsal fins, a huge mouth, fierce eyes, and most importantly, a row of barbs that protrude stiffly from their spine. Frankly they look like something you’d see on a nature documentary, some sort of crazy foreign fish that lives in a far away ocean. And normally you’d be right, the native habitat of the lionfish is the South Pacific, their territory stretches from China all the way down to Australia. But due to human action, lionfishes have managed to be introduced into the gulf waters. In order to really understand how destructive the lionfish are, you need to know a few things.
- The lionfish will eat almost anything. Even members of its own species.
- They have no natural predators in the Gulf. Meaning that this problem won’t fix itself.
- They breed like rabbits. A lionfish can lay up to 30,000 eggs every four days, that is an absolutely staggering amount.
- One single lionfish can reduce the population of native fish species by up to 79% (NOAA).
- That big mouth can swallow most gulf fish whole, which means that almost every local fish is a potential food source
- Those fancy barbs on top aren’t for show. They contain a potent venom, more than capable of killing a predator, prey, and even hurting humans.
- If left unchecked, the lionfish could easily wipe out native species from the gulf.
- Unfortunately, there probably is not a way to fully wipe out the population of lionfish.
The lionfish are decimating the Gulf right now. Consuming whatever they can, whenever they can. Since it’s unlikely that nature and gulf fish stocks will adapt to the lionfish, it’s up to people to fix this problem. So much of the fish stock in the gulf have been decimated, that lionfish may be turning to cannibalism in order to survive.(Nat Geo) Lionfish would only feed on each other if all other sources of food had been depleted. If unaddressed the lionfish problem will spiral out of control and bring permanent damage to the gulf.
The situation with the lionfish may be severe, but it isn’t hopeless. There are a few solutions to this problem. Lionfish are plentiful in the gulf, and are actually quite tasty, not to mention healthier than other fish. There’s more than enough lionfish living in the gulf, and these numbers mean it’s possible to start selling lionfish in bulk through fish markets. If more people become aware of just how tasty the lionfish is, then demand to purchase lionfish will go up, and there is plenty of supply to meet it. All along the coast, beneficial competitions called lionfish derbies are being held. Basically a day long competition to see who can bag as many fish as possible. In the last ten years or so, just one organization, REEF, has managed to eliminate almost 25,000 lionfish from the Gulf. These derbies help to spread awareness, and lighten the load of lionfish swimming out off of the coast. But the best way to tackle the problem is by spreading awareness. Let those around you know about the current crisis the Gulf is in. As mentioned, lionfish are very delicious. There’s a whole variety of recipes online. Some are linked below. These recipes may look or sound complicated, but it’s easy to cook lionfish, and hard to mess up. With just a little bit of time and effort, you could turn a once dangerous fish into a tasty meal. Lucky the lionfish crisis is not a secret, multiple organizations and government offices are aware of the problem, spreading the message that lionfish need to be stopped. Even celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay are helping where they can, as the attached video shows. There is still a very real chance to save the Gulf, so long as there is a genuine effort to stop the lionfish. Below are a few links, one is a list of recipes for lionfish, and the others are more information if you’re interested in learning more. Hopefully one day soon the lionfish population will be brought to a reasonable level, and the Gulf will recover.
Link to Lionfish Recipes: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/lionfish-recipes/
Links for more information: https://www.reef.org/lionfish-derbies https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/feature-story/impacts-invasive-lionfish
Sources used: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/feature-story/impacts-invasive-lionfish https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/07/150723-lionfish-invasive-species-destructive-fish-cannibalism-florida/ https://www.reef.org/lionfish-derbies https://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/profile/lionfish https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lionfish.html