While there have been 65 confirmed captures of Pacific lionfish in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and increased lionfish sightings, Department of Planning and Natural Resources Chief of Environmental Education William Coles says containment efforts have — so far — been successful.
Experts agree that it is unrealistic to try to eradicate the fish by spearing and capturing alone. The key is to keep the population in check until a permanent solution to the problem can be found. Biologists fear a full-on invasion of the non-native fish, which has a voracious appetites and no natural predators in the Caribbean, will wreak havoc on local fisheries and reefs.
Oregon State University marine biologist Mark Hixon, a pioneer in lionfish research, called the species “ravenous predators of small reef fisheries” that eat the juvenile food fish, such as grouper and snapper, as well as “ecologically important” fish that help maintain the reef.
Four lionfish — including a 14-inch male that was the largest lionfish found in the territory’s waters to date — were trapped by a fisherman off St. Croix’s Sandy Point between 120 and 150 feet of water. Three of the fish were female and appear to have bred at least once, if not several times., Coles said. The fish were found in deeper water than recreational divers typically reach, Coles said, and indicate that a serious problem may lie beyond the grasp of volunteer lionfish hunters.
“We’ve got to work harder. We’ve got to work smarter,” Coles said, adding that DPNR needs funding for equipment and a professional staff to hunt for lionfish in the territory’s deep water.
Read what the US Virgin Islands are doing to contain this threat on the VirginIslandsDailyNews.com. To report a lionfish sighting, or to make a donation to help with containment efforts, call 340-773-1082 or 340-643-0800.