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Putting the Cat Back in the Bag: Turning the Invasive Lionfish Scourge into a Conservation Opportunity

Abstract

In the last few decades, invasive lionfish from the Indo-Pacific, Pterois volitans and Pterois miles, have proliferated throughout the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. This diaspora has caused major concerns for the health of marine ecosystems in this region. Research has shown that invasive lionfish can have potentially extremely detrimental impacts on the native reef fish populations which, in turn, can result in extensive ecologic shifts, thereby negatively affecting coral reef communities as a whole. In response to this epidemic, many of the region’s coastal and island communities and nations have instituted culling programs in an attempt to reduce lionfish populations and mitigate the damage.

This study aimed to find strategies that can best be implemented to pursue lionfish mitigation by capitalizing on this unexpected resource to create viable conservation opportunities for coastal communities that depend on healthy reef ecosystems for sustenance and economic well-being. Due to the vagaries of designing a market around a resource that is ultimately intended to be depleted, it was found that a large scale commercial fishery is not economically feasible. It appears that small-scale artisanal and subsistence fisheries, coupled with engaging the multitude of recreational divers that visit the region to participate in culling efforts, will be the most cost effective and efficient way to keep lionfish populations low in order to protect the coral reef ecosystems on which so many coastal communities depend.

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