Lionfish Invasion of the Caribbean

Lionfish (Pterios volitans/miles complex) are venomous coral reef fishes native to the Indian and the western Pacific oceans, and were first introduced into the western Atlantic Ocean in the early 1990s. By 2010, infestation by Lionfish had spread throughout essentially all islands in the Caribbean Sea, the eastern coast of Central America, Bermuda, and the coast of the United States from western Florida as far north as the Chesapeake Bay, with some sightings off Rhode Island. Lionfish in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean have no known natural predators and no known other factors controlling their geographic dispersion except water temperature. Lionfish are top level predators consuming essentially every species of fish and crustacean that is smaller than them, including species essential to the health of reefs which many commercial fish need to breed as well as the young of commercial species themselves.

The number of sightings has more than doubled from 2008 to 2010 and the range of sightings continues to expand every year. To date there has been no systematic quantification of the actual degree of infestation in any specific area throughout the Lionfish’s depth range. Thus, the level of effort needed to eradicate Lionfish for even a short period of time is essentially unknown. Eradication is further complicated by the geographic dispersion of the Lionfish infestation, so it is most likely that permanent eradication in all areas is not possible. The most practical and cost-effective method to reduce the impact of Lionfish is to first reduce their population to an acceptable minimal level and then implement monitoring and control activities on a continuous basis to keep the infestation in check.

HYDROSPACE Lionfish Hunter Project proposes to conduct a series of three-month pilot projects throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and western Atlantic to quantify the actual extent of the infestation and demonstrate the effectiveness of the HYDROSPACE Lionfish Capture Systemâ„¢. The pilot projects will provide the data to implement long-term Lionfish Control Programs to reduce and then maintain their population at minimal levels throughout their habitat range up to 500 feet deep. All operations are based from a 130 foot mother ship, making them self-sufficient. The mother ship also provides additional lab space and facilities for guest researchers. Each pilot project and long-term program is proposed as a complete turn-key operation which includes the mother ship, submersible, support vessels, and operating and support crews for all vessels.

Each pilot project provides:

  • A systematic quantification of the size of the Lionfish population in a defined area
  • Demonstration of effective large-scale capture and removal methods, and
  • The data needed to determine what level of effort will be required to achieve a specific reduction in the Lionfish population and what resources will be needed to maintain Lionfish populations at acceptable minimal levels in a given area