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Lionfish Light The Way

picture of a Red Lionfish

The Red Lionfish, with its graceful fins and venomous spines, is creating a very serious problem since its invasion of the Gulf and Mediterranean waters.

As some of you may know, the Lionfish is a warm-water species from the Indo-Pacific waters.  Sporting venomous spines, they are a generalist, eating everything from fish nearly half their size, to crustaceans, shrimp, etc.  Having been introduced in the early 1990’s off the coast of Florida, they are taking over the Gulf and Caribbean waters.  Their venomous spines are an adaptation that indigenous species have no means of dealing with.  Their presence has been devastating to an already challenged ecosystem.  Starting from that one spot in Florida, and tracing back genetically to just 6 or 8 females released into the Gulf’s waters, they now cover a vast range, covering the entire Gulf and Caribbean region (see image further below.  As generalists, they are destroying the balances of nature, consuming and growing unchecked.  Sturdy, these beautiful fish are akin to the red-tailed hawks of North America; they can live on most anything and thrive in many conditions.  Their only bottleneck now is cooler waters; They don’t seem able to withstand waters further north, so spreading to the UK along the Gulf Stream is unlikely.  Read more

Overfishing Reef Fish Devastates Breeding Populations

Malaysia is amongst the South Pacific destinations that are eagerly gobbling up reef fish in unprecedented numbers. Coral trout, spotted lobster, prawns, giant grouper, and many other species are all fair game for both tourist and local appetites along this string of islands. But they’re not the only ones demanding the fish. All across southeast Asia and China, the demand for reef fish is devastating their numbers in the Coral Triangle, that protected place which is home to the most dense diversity of their breeding populations.

Conservation Biology magazine, a scientific publication, reveals that breeding within the Coral Triangle, home to 3/4 of the coral species on the planet, has dropped nearly 80 percent in recent years. Overfishing is expected to be the cause. Fishermen tend to harvest most heavily when a species is spawning and congregated in great numbers for that breeding, according to University of Hong Kong biologist Yvonne Sadovy, writing on behalf of herself as well as four other nations involved in the study, including the U.S.A.

“The Coral Triangle has relatively few spawning aggregations reported in the communities we went to,” Dr. Sadovy wrote. “We think that this might be due to the more heavily fished (overall) condition of reef fisheries in many parts of the Coral Triangle, where there is uncontrolled fishing and high demand for live groupers for the international live fish trade.”

The Hong Kong reef fish market has grown into a 810 million dollar a year business, according to the Worldwide Fund for Nature, which monitors the market. Demand for exotic fish is especially high in Shanghai and Beijing. This translates to a large tourist population arriving where bargains on the reef fish can be had. Local prices are less than half of what people are used to paying in China, for example.

Over a quarter of the planet’s 161 reef species are currently threatened or near threatened, the grouper being at the top of that list. These long-living fish grow to be as much as 8 feet long in the wild, taking as long as 5 years to become reproductive, but most of them are taken to market long before they can do so. This alone accounts for their decline.

The Coral Triangle is shared by six countries: Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands and East Timor. There is no specific enforcement of fishing regulations within the region, so dynamite and cyanide are both regularly used there. This equates to an even greater devastation to both the fish and the reefs that support them.

It’s essential that we come to see the breeding seasons as a special time for the fish themselves, during which they are immune to fishing, rather than seeing them as an easy and bountiful catch (as is the case with salmon in Alaska.) But alongside this, we must bear in mind that the fishermen have families to feed as well, and that this industry feeds far more than just those who eat the fish. Whatever solution we come up with must account for their needs. Simply imposing regulations will merely push the fishing underground, making a black market for them, and inadvertently making the problem worse.

What we do does make a difference. We have a direct impact upon the planet and its interconnected wildlife. It is essential that we step up to protect the ocean — for our own sakes.