Lionfish are beautiful and interesting fish but you have probably heard about the lionfish invasion – as these fish are often seen while snorkeling we thought it would be great to provide you real and useful information about them, and clear the things: are they really that bad or just got a „bad marketing”?
Lionfish invasion is not a global problem
Lionfish are native in the Red Sea, Indian Ocean and in the Southern and Western Pacific Ocean. Their natural predators that are known to eat them: sharks, groupers, eels, cornet fish, frog- scorpion- and triggerfish. So if they are native in a region they don’t cause ecological problems, their predators help keeping the balance.
We can speak about lionfish invasion on places where they are non-native: Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, Western Atlantic Ocean and in the Mediterranean Sea. The problem was just recently noticed in the Mediterranean, experts are investigating how bad is the situation.
The invasive species are the Red Lionfish and the Common Lionfish/Devil Fire fish. These species are originally from the Indo-Pacific region and from the Red Sea. The first documented lionfish in the USA is from 1985 – a local fisherman found a Red Lionfish in a crab trap in Florida. There are unconfirmed stories of sightings from the early ’70s as well.
How did lionfish get into another regions?
There are more theories how did these fish get into the Western Atlantic Ocean: some people say from a private aquarium what was destroyed by a hurricane, others say they were transported in ship’s ballast tanks. Most scientists agree that the lionfish invasion started in a home aquarium – somebody simple disposed the fish into the ocean around Southeast Florida and then the egg masses were distributed via the currents. Now they can be found in the whole area from Rhode Island as far as Brazil and the lionfish invasion became a serious problem because they have less natural predators.
What problems do they cause?
The native lionfish are ecologically important, they help to maintain the health and balance of the reef. They protect small fish: the smaller fish congregate around them searching protection from predators. But lionfish invasion impact the food security and economies, affect over a hundred million people. The females can release up to 2 million eggs a year, they breed faster than rabbits. They are sexually mature at 1 year of age and can live 15-20 years. They eat over half size of their own body, their stomach can expand up to 30 times the normal volume. Scientists mentioned over 70 species that lionfish eat: fish, invertebrates, crabs, octopus, squid, lobster, sea horses and shrimps are on their menu. The lionfish invasion can destroy whole ecosystems – they can reduce native marine creatures by 80-90% in just 5 weeks.
In the effected areas scientist tried to train local fish to hunt lionfish but the attempts were not successful, they noticed if the lionfish hunting is not their natural habitat they might become aggressive towards other species and human as well which could cause even bigger problems than the lionfish invasion. It seems the humans could control or slow the lionfish invasion through trapping, fishing or hunting.
Lionfish hunting is becoming more and more popular, many people don’ know but they have very mild white meat that can be prepared in many ways as sushi, sashimi, in soup, fried or baked. They are not poisonous to eat if it is prepared correctly; there is no poison in the flesh of the lionfish meat at all. Eating non-native lionfish is good for the environment and it means you support the local fishermen on your own way. They are high in Omega 3 fatty acids, low in saturated fats and heavy metals. There are more and more restaurants that serve lionfish or you might find recipes on the internet as well.
Dangers and injuries
Lionfish are not dangerous or aggressive towards humans, if they cause injuries that happens by accident or out of self defense. Most often divers or photographers are stung because they go too close to them or they either do not see them. Sometimes swimmers in shallow waters get injured step on a lionfish accidentally. If you hunt them you might get injured as well if you are not enough careful, you need to remove their spines. Invasive lionfish have 18 venomous spines and protein-based neurotoxins: 13 long in the dorsal fin, 1 short in each pelvic fins and 3 in the anal fin with.
If you get stung by a lionfish, you will feel the following symptoms: intense pain, redness and swelling. I also could cause allergic reactions, dizziness or in extreme cases temporary paralysis. The pain may last for several hours, the duration of symptoms depends on the amount of venom delivered and how deep the spine punctured but for healthy adult the lionfish’s stung is just painful, not deadly. Once you get stung, you must end your snorkel or dive session as soon as possible, and remove the spines and apply hot water on your skin. Applying clean cloth soaked in hot water is the most effective and do not apply ice or cold compresses, they will make the pain worse. Home remedies like vinegar, baking soda or urine are not effective against their toxins, so they should be avoided. If you can’t handle the situation, call for emergency medical service.
We hope you are now better informed about these interesting fish, why and where are they dangerous. For more information, visit this informative site and learn more about the lionfish, lionfish invasion and lionfish hunting.
Anett fell in love with the ocean immediately when she put her head underwater in the Red Sea back in 2010. Discovering megacities is not her style but getting lost in tiny coastal villages, capturing the beauty of the sea while snorkeling. Wherever she goes, she takes her mask, fins and underwater camera with her. She has a big interest in exploring the world’s last hidden underwater paradises and marine conservation. She hopes to inspire people to protect our oceans by sharing her underwater stories. Find her photos on @anett.szaszi Instagram too!