Marine predators are not hunting lionfish, a three-year study of 71 reefs has shown. Only humans are killing them, but feeding those culled lionfish to marine animals seem to be making predators more aggressive toward divers, associating them with a free meal.
In the meantime, lionfish, which can spawn two million eggs a year, continue to feast on juvenile fish on our reefs.
There are lots of eager divers and organisations, like Lionfish University, the Cayman United Lionfish League, the Department of Environment and dive operations, that are ready and willing to tackle the invasion, but these efforts need to be coordinated and tracked so we can tell if the culling efforts are working and also what, if any, impact the culling is having on other wildlife.
Everyone needs to get on the same page with this issue, which threatens not just the dive industry and the health of the reefs, but Cayman’s entire tourism product.
On Grand Cayman, the DoE urges divers to report on their lionfish catches, but many cullers still fail to do so. They don’t need to hand over the lionfish they catch, merely let the DoE know where the fish were caught and their approximate size, so that there is some data on record. While ad-hoc removal of lionfish from the reefs seems to be reducing the population on popular dive sites, there has been no real intensive, ongoing, coordinated culls on Grand Cayman or Cayman Brac, other than occasional, well-supported culling tournaments.
Little Cayman has a different approach. There, professional divers have been culling lionfish in a sustained, organised manner for years. They hand over the lionfish to the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, which along with the University of Florida produced a report that showed repeated culling by a small, dedicated group of divers on specific sites is helping control the population on those sites. In this instance, science has backed up the practical efforts. We’d like to see more coordination and collection of scientific data behind the fight against lionfish in the Cayman Islands and beyond.