We have a big problem in Mahahual and though out the Caribbean, Lionfish. They are taking over the reef here, and a causing a lot of problems for the ecosystem. Now, here in Mahahual and all around Quintana Roo, there is a concentrated effort to kill as many lionfish as possible to stem their growth and stop the lionfish from destroying the reef. I am sharing an article I read in http://www.theyucatantimes.com that goes in depth how the lionfish invaded the Caribbean, and the effort now to market the lionfish to restaurants and export the lionfish to other parts of the world.
Lion Fish: “Eat Them to Beat Them”
Pterois volitans, the Red Lionfish, is destroying the ecosystem of the Mexican Caribbean.
Native to the Pacific and Indian oceans, these bewitchingly beautiful fish are highly venomous and have few predators, hence their rapid proliferation.
Researchers have found up to 50 species of juvenile fish in their stomachs, among them parrotfish, which graze on toxic algae that poisons the reef, keeping the coral healthy.
It is estimated that lionfish can consume up to 80 per cent of an area’s small reef fish in the space of just five weeks.
Until the Nineties there had been no sightings of lionfish in the Caribbean or western Atlantic, but some reefs off Florida and South Carolina now harbour 1,000 per acre.
Lionfish rodeos, in which spearfishers hunt down the species, frequently harvest 1,400 in a day.
Numbers have doubled annually since 2010, and the invasion has spread from the United States throughout and all the way down to to Venezuela; passing by the Caribbean Islands, the coasts of the Yucatan Peninsula, and then westward through the Gulf of Mexico.
Nobody knows for sure how the lionfish got here. Some blame it on an incident in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew smashed a seafront aquarium in Florida, releasing lionfish into the wild.
It’s more likely the first specimens came in the ballast tanks of ships from distant oceans or were discarded by amateur aquarists who had simply grown bored with them.
Confident of their place in the food chain, they never dart or hide but float gracefully above the coral with their venomous spines extended like a mane and twirl slowly like ballerinas, as if to say: “Look at me.”
How lionfish took over the Caribbean
Before the Nineties there were no lionfish in the Atlantic, but by 1994 an established population (marked by a red dot) had been spotted off Florida.
In the next decade, they colonised the eastern seaboard of the US.
By 2014, the invasion had spread throughout the Caribbean islands and densities had reached 1,000 per acre.
But now, the Fishermen Community in the island of Cozumel, Quintana Roo as well as other Fishing Cooperatives in different coastal towns of the Yucatan Peninsula have found a solution to this ecologic problem, and at the same time, a viable way to take advantage of the increased population of invasive lionfish in the region.
Under the slogan “Eat them to Beat Them”, Lion Fish is becoming a “trendy” plate in restaurants all over the US and the Americas, and therefore, it is now a profitable export product.
In Mahahual, you get get lionfish in almost all the restaurants along the malecon, prepared in many different ways. I have even had lionfish pizza at Papi’s Pizza once here, and it was good. I have had lionfish fried, grilled, in cerviche, and many other ways. I really like the tatse of lionfish.
Also here in Mahahual there are lot of guys that spear fish, and when they go out, they try to catch as many as they can in one day. A lot of the scuba and snorkeling guides here also carry a spear gun out with them on tours, and shoot all they see. I recently went out on a scuba dive tour up at Captain Huacho’s, and the guide shot some, and we had lionfish for lunch, right on the shore.
So if you come to Mahahual in the future be sure to eat lionfish at one of the local restaurants here in town. If you also are in another part of Mexico, or the Caribbean, or even in the USA, be sure to eat ot try some lionfish at a restaurant, you will be helping to preserve Mahahual’s and other places in the Caribbean’s ecosystem from these predators. It will also help fishing cooperatives like the one here in Mahahual, and others along the Caribbean coast, who are now concentrating their efforts on making lionfish a valuable export to the USA, and other parts of the world.
Thanks for reading,
Stewart Rogers USA-South Carolina