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Divers speared two more Pacific lionfish off the coast of St. Croix this week.

These were the 13th and 14th Pacific lionfish – a non-native predatory fish capable of devastating coral reefs – captured off the waters of St. Croix since the first one was caught just more than a year ago, said William Coles, chief of environmental education with the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ Fish and Wildlife Division.

Biologists fear that the Pacific lionfish – a non-native species with no natural predators – will wreak havoc on the territory’s marine ecosystem and economy. A native of the western Pacific, the lionfish has a voracious appetite for smaller fish and can severely affect coral reefs by depleting fish that are necessary players in reefs’ fragile ecosystem. The striking, striped fish with fan-like fins and venomous dorsal spines is distinct from the native scorpionfish that is sometimes called “lionfish” locally.

Lionfish found in recent months have been of various sizes and stages of maturity, Coles said, which leads him to suspect they are arriving in boats that take on ballast water to increase their stability. The U.S. Coast Guard requires these boats to transfer their ballast water at least 200 miles offshore to prevent the transfer of non-native marine wildlife. But not all ships may be doing the transfer, Coles said.

Five Pacific lionfish have been caught in the territory’s waters in January alone. With sightings on the rise, Coles urged residents to help with the hunt. “Get into the water and look for lionfish,” he said. “When you see it, mark it, and let me know.”

Anyone who spots a Pacific lionfish should mark the area and notify Coles at 340-773-1082 or 340-643-0800 on St. Croix, or call 693-1393 on St. Thomas, or 693-8950 ext. 240 on St. John.

(resource: Virgin Islands Daily News)