Fisheries Division taking steps to combat Lionfish
March 16, 2012
Fisheries Division taking steps to combat Lionfish

Officials in the Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Industry, Forestry, Fisheries and Rural Transformation say they are dealing with the threat of lionfish infestation in Vincentian waters as rapidly as possible.{{more}}

Fisheries Officer in Biology and Research Chris Isaacs told SEARCHLIGHT last week, following a consultation with stakeholders in the fishing industry, that a document is being crafted, which will educate all stakeholders in the marine industry as to how to move forward in dealing with the predatory fish which can destroy other species and have a destructive effect on marine life as we know it.

Isaacs indicated that work has been taking place in the background since the fish was discovered here in November last year.

“I can see where people can say we are ‘sticking’ with it, but with any policy document, there are certain steps that need to be taken; like these consultations. We had to meet with people first and make sure that we have something concrete in place before we take it to the next step.

Isaacs, who said that the document could be ready by at the least the end of March, said that in the short term, fishermen and divers can continue to pluck the venomous fish from the waters when they are encountered.

The lion fish is not only a threat to other fish, but its venom can cause serious injury, and in rare cases, death to humans.

Persons who encounter the fish are, however, asked to approach it cautiously, as a sting from a lionfish is extremely painful and can cause nausea and breathing difficulties. The venom is delivered via its needle-like dorsal fins.

Isaacs noted that some persons have come up with ingenious ways to catch the fish, and that the Department will be looking into ways to assist in the short term.

The consultation, which took place on Thursday, March 1, brought together dive operators, fishermen, the Port Authority, Ministry of Tourism etc, and others at the fisheries complex in Kingstown for what Isaacs said was the first of many public awareness workshops which will be held by the Department.

“We will definitely have more of these consultations… to go over not only the action response plan that the Department is putting together, but we also wanted to inform them about the threat that the lionfish is posing in the waters of St Vincent and the Grenadines, and also the Caribbean as a whole.”

“What we put forward to them was the draft of the response plan, and we asked them about ways they would like it improved for the final document.

“It was mentioned that we could put in certain things like protecting commercial species, public health, maintain biodiversity, and also reducing the spread of the lionfish throughout the different areas.”

According to Isaacs, it is hoped that the consultations would ease the fears of stakeholders about the local presence of the fish, and that by working together, the stakeholders would be able to ‘nip the lionfish threat in the bud’ before it gets out of control.

“I don’t believe that we can eradicate the lionfish from out of the waters; it is here to stay…. What we can do is mitigate against it developing in such a way that it would start to drastically affect our fishing and reef population.

“We want to give the right information so that as we go forward, we will have the public behind us and not running around and have them hampering what we are trying to do.”

Meanwhile, education and eradication are the words of the day in the Southern Grenadines, as another major hunt took place last week.

According to Nancy Saul-Demers, who has been at the forefront of the awareness exercise there, staff of Grenadines Dive and local fishermen were schooled on the reproduction rate and appetite of the fish.

Saul-Demers, along with Grenadines Dive owner Glenroy Adams, highlighted the danger the fish poses to to people, other fish species, and the reef itself.

This was followed by a hunt off Chatham Bay, where 11 of the deadly predators were found, killed, and extracted, along with garbage.

The hunting party, which consisted of 10 men and one woman, discussed the possibility of making the expeditions a weekly affair.