Invasive lionfish now a cause for concern in Barbados

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Tuesday December 4, 2012 – Lionfish sightings in Barbados’ waters have moved from ten within the first eight months of the first sighting in November 2011 to ten per week and the fish are now found right around the island.

So said fisheries biologist Chris Parker, while addressing delegates from the 21st Conference of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Regional Commission for the Americas, as they toured the Bellairs Research Institute of McGill University at Folkestone, St James. 

Highlighting the problems that this species has created for Barbados, Parker explained that once native to the Indo-Pacific region, these fish have found a new home in the Caribbean.

“Lionfish are the first marine fish known to have successfully invaded the Western Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The invasion is viewed by scientists as a major threat to the coral reef ecosystems and our associated fisheries,” the marine biologist said.

Lionfish continue to multiply rapidly, having first been spotted off Florida in 1985, spreading to Bermuda and then The Bahamas by 2004. By 2007 they had spread to Cuba and Turks and Caicos, then Belize in 2008. Since then, the spread has escalated to the rest of the Caribbean and South America.

Two species have so far been found in the Atlantic – the red lionfish and the devil-fire fish – and scientists believe they will only be stopped by cooler waters further north and south.

Adding to the threat is their very high reproductive rate, with spawning occurring every four days year-round.

According to Parker, “They sexually mature within the first year of life and have a long life span of 15 years. They also have a faster growth rate than many species. 

“They are less susceptible to parasites because they can shed their skin and have an arsenal of spines that present a fabulous aversion to predation. As such, there are no known predators in the region,” he said.

The biologist added that they are efficient and voracious predators, consuming reef fish and other invertebrates, with 56 species identified so far as their prey. More importantly, they eat the juveniles of many of the larger fish caught for food by the local population. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)