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Lionfish invasion is the fastest ever reported in the Mediterranean

Non-native lionfish have become increasingly common in parts of the Mediterranean. Growing numbers of lionfish threaten local ecosystems by dominating native fish species and disrupting food chains. 

In a new study from the University of Plymouth, experts have developed a plan to help communities minimize the impact of lionfish in the Mediterranean Sea.

Lionfish were first spotted in the Mediterranean in 2012 off the coast of the Lebanon. Since that time, there have been sightings as far west as Sicily, and as far north as the Adriatic Sea near Croatia.  

A major expansion of the Suez Canal in 2015, which deepened the main waterway, further facilitated the invasion of lionfish in the Mediterranean.

The researchers said that increasing lionfish densities – combined with the species’ generalist diet and consumption of ecologically and socio-economically important fish – has the potential to result in further disruption of an already stressed marine environment.

Now, the team has published a Guide to Lionfish Management in the Mediterranean, which features a series of recommendations that could help manage lionfish populations.

For example, the experts advise that a supply chain could be created between fishers, markets, and consumers to make lionfish a component of the region’s fishing industry.

The researchers are also calling for legal changes to permit lionfish removals across the Mediterranean, and for the species to be included on the European Union list of invasive species of concern.

“The lionfish invasion is the fastest ever reported in the Mediterranean Sea. Our research has shown that between 2018-2020 alone, there was a 400% increase in the numbers of lionfish in areas off Cyprus where fishing was restricted within Marine Protected Areas,” said Professor Jason Hall-Spencer. “However, we have also seen there is both an understanding within communities of the need for action, and a willingness to get involved. 

“The Mediterranean Sea’s lionfish populations are unlikely to be eradicated, and our changing climate and warming ocean means they are in fact more likely to spread further. Only through improvements to the biosecurity of the Suez Canal can we avoid more and more invasive species flooding into the Mediterranean Sea.”

The Guide has been endorsed by HSH the Sovereign Prince Albert II of Monaco. The Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation works to protect the environment and promote sustainable development.

Writing in the Guide’s foreword, the Prince said: “The proliferation of the lionfish in the Mediterranean is a major threat to our sea’s ecosystems. That is why it is important to do all we can to prevent, inhibit and limit it. This is what the solutions presented in this Guide very effectively set out, based on both sound scientific expertise and conclusive feedback.”

The research was funded by the European Union.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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