Lionfish a threat to marine life

Marine enthusiasts are being urged to lookout for the Red Lionfish, an invasive species of fish native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans that has made its way to the Atlantic.


The Red Lionfish is beautiful but dangerous.
Photo: Submitted

The Department of Environment said the fish poses a grave danger to marine life as it feeds on large quantities of juvenile fish and crustaceans, such a shrimp, lobster and crab. With its painful sting, it can also be harmful to humans.

DoE Research Officer Bradley Johnson said people should not try to catch the fish but should report sightings of it to the DoE.

‘If you catch a lionfish while fishing, do not attempt to remove it from your line and do not release it back into the ocean. Please place it in a bucket or similar container and call the DoE to collect it,’ he said.

There has been no sighting of the fish in Grand Cayman’s waters, but one was recovered from a Little Cayman dive site in February.

Scientists at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute on Little Cayman have planned a series of drives in early August to determine the extent to which the lionfish may have been able to establish itself around the island. Members of the public are invited to participate in the survey as part of the CCMI’s Dive with a Researcher Program, said its President, Dr. Carrie Manfrino.

Allowing Lionfish to establish themselves in local waters might lead to serious problems, the DoE said, because they are:

  • Ravenous predators, known to eat juvenile fish and crustaceans in large quantities;
  • Not known to have any native predators;
  • Equipped with venomous spines for deterring predators, which can also cause painful wounds to humans;
  • Capable of reproducing year-round with unique reproduction mechanisms rarely found in native fish. They can reproduce at 1-2 years old;
  • Relatively resistant to parasites-another advantage over native species;
  • Fast to grow, outpacing native species with whom they compete for food and space.

‘For these reasons, Cayman’s Department of Environment, as well as those in Bermuda and the Bahamas, have taken the stand that these fish must be removed from our waters as soon as possible,’ Mr Johnson concluded.

Red Lionfish will defend their space when harassed. If threatened they will arch their backs, point their dorsal spines at the aggressor, and swim forward rapidly to inflict a sting.

Poisoning of the hand from the venom has been the most common injury to date. Serious wounds have also resulted from careless handling of recently-dead specimens. The Red Lionfish sting causes little or no pain initially but leads to several hours of extreme pain, depending upon the amount of venom injected. Other sting symptoms may also include swelling, redness, bleeding, nausea, numbness, joint pain, anxiety, headache, disorientation, dizziness, nausea, paralysis and convulsions.

If stung by a Lionfish you should immerse the wound in hot water for 30-90 minutes and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Persons are being asked to report lionfish sightings to the DoE at any of the following contact numbers:

*General – (949-8469) or;

*Grand Cayman – Mark (916-4271)

*Little Cayman – Hank (916-7021) or Robert (926-2342)

*Cayman Brac – Erbin (926-0136)

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