By Andre Huie
BASSETERRE, St Kitts (WINN) -- On the heels of a recent report of a drop in lionfish in Jamaica, there has also been a decline in the appearance of the predatory lionfish in St Kitts waters according to Mark Williams, director of the Marine Resources Department.
Jamaica has reported a big decline
in sightings of lionfish, the voracious invasive species that has been wreaking havoc on regional reefs for years. A campaign was launched there some four years ago to slash numbers of lionfish. The National Environment and Planning Agency in Jamaica is reporting a 66 percent drop in sightings of lionfish in coastal waters with depths of 75 feet (23 meters).
"We have a similar observation to Jamaica, that we see a stagnant level almost to a reduction," Williams told WINN FM.
"We have been encouraging our fishers and their customers to purchase the lionfish, consume the lionfish, because it tastes similar to our grouper which is a high end fish in our federation,” he said.
Williams noted, however, that even though there is a drop in the sightings of lionfish in St Kitts waters, fishermen are not enthusiastic about catching and selling them for consumption. This, Williams said, is because locally not many people have been showing an interest in eating lionfish.
"It's mainly a by catch for the trap fishery as well as for the spear fishers, they haven't been targeting it because our citizens have not been demanding it,” he explained.
He noted that while there has been a slight increase in consumption, it was not at the level to reduce the population significantly. He asserted that ultimately catching lionfish is the only way to control the population. He explained the observed decline in the population recently was more likely due to the territorial nature of the creature.
"Lionfish are territorial. As they get older they will mark their own space, so as a result our marine space is fairly small, so when it [reaches] a population level that covers most of the lionfish areas in a marine space then they will move on to other destination," the director said.
"We can continue to take the lionfish... out of our waters. That's the only way we can stop the lionfish from expanding the population in our area. It has been suggested that we should have lionfish... fishing competition. However, these are just temporary fixes because if our neighbours, St Eustatius, St Barts, Antigua and Barbuda even Puerto Rico don't have lionfish competitions going on at the same time it would be somewhat difficult to keep the population lower over a sustainable period,” Williams said.
He reminded that that there are no health risks related to the consumption of the lionfish.
"They have some venomous spines, that if you get [stung] when you're cleaning it, it will swell your hand, but other than that it is a safe eating fish,” he said.
Republished with permission of West Indies News Network