People licensed for Lionfish cull

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A group of volunteers has been licensed to take part in a pilot programme to cull the invasive Lionfish which are threatening Bermuda’s reef ecosystem and commercial fishing.

The initial group of 31 volunteers has been issued special licenses by the Ministry of the Environment and Sports to use scuba gear and to use spears within the one mile limit that is legislated for spear fishing activities.

Lionfish have already decimated areas of the Caribbean and recently their numbers have been multiplying around Bermuda.

Minister of the Environment Elvin James said: “The Lionfish constitutes a real threat to Bermuda’s reef ecosystem and commercial fishery. It is incumbent on us in Bermuda to do all we can to protect our marine ecosystem.

“In fact, even though this problem is relatively new to Bermuda, we are already being hailed by other countries and international organisations as an example of proactive management of Lionfish.”

Lionfish, scientific name Pterois volitans, used to occur exclusively in the Indian and western Pacific Oceans, but in recent years they have been observed in the western Atlantic, from Florida to New York and around Bermuda.

It is thought that Lionfish were accidentally introduced, most likely by marine aquarium hobbyists, to the waters off the coast of Florida where they have now become established and are spreading.

While currently being studied, scientists are unsure what damage the introduction of Lionfish might cause to our reef ecosystem. Exotic species such as the Lionfish are widely regarded as the top threat to the biodiversity of small islands.

They often thrive in their “new” home because of lack of predators or competitors, and an abundance of prey that are ill-suited to defend themselves against the invader.

When an exotic species thrives, it often competes with native species for resources such as food and shelter. This competition can result in the decline of native populations.

To gain a better understanding of what these introduced fish could do to our reef ecosystem the Department of Conservation Services will be collecting Lionfish found locally.

The fish will be examined to determine whether they are actually breeding in our waters and what they are eating.

A Lionfish can give a painful, venomous sting with its dorsal, anal and pelvic fins. The sting is a defence mechanism against potential threats, such as predators. Anyone stung by a lionfish should seek medical attention immediately.

While waiting for medical treatment, elevate the affected limb and immerse the site in hot (not scalding) water, as hot as can be tolerated, for an hour or until the pain stops. The heat denatures the protein in the venom.

Government. would like to keep track of where the lionfish are being observed by members of the public. If you see a lionfish when you are snorkeling or diving could you please, as soon as possible, contact the Marine Conservation Officer at 293 4464 extension 146 or email lionfish@gov.bm.

The information needed is the date you saw the lionfish, location and depth of where you observed it, the approximate length (snout to tip of tail) of the fish; also your name and telephone number in case we have any further questions.

If any member of the public sees a Lionfish in the water they are advised not to approach it. The correct course of action is to call the Marine Conservation Officer at 293 4464 extension 146 or email lionfish@gov.bm.