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Targeted removal of lionfish may prove helpful

Beautiful lionfish with their mesmerizing patterns and showy spines are a popular aquarium animal. Unfortunately, when released into the wild outside of their home range, lionfish can also cause problems for local ecosystems. 

The total eradication of lionfish outside of their native waters is likely impossible. Luckily, new research shows that targeted removal and closer monitoring of the invasive fish might still be helpful. 

“There are many changes happening within the Mediterranean as a consequence of human activity and climate change. The lionfish invasion has been one notable consequence of that, but this study shows there is a potential – albeit complex and challenging – solution,” explained lead author Periklis Kleitou of the University of Plymouth.

“One of the interesting aspects of this work has been to see how the training improved divers’ knowledge of the issue, and motivated them to support management efforts. That is without doubt something we can, and should, build on to ensure lionfish populations are managed sustainably now and in the future.”

To look at the effectiveness of targeted lionfish removal, scientists employed the help of trained divers and citizen scientists. In three locations off the coast of Cypress, divers removed between 35 and 119 lionfish per day. The results showed that native wildlife populations started to recover after the targeted removal.  

“This study demonstrates the complex nature of managing and protecting our ocean. Marine Protected Areas are undoubtedly beneficial in terms of biodiversity on the seabed, but they are also vulnerable to the spread of invasive species,” said senior author Professor Jason Hall-Spencer.

“Our ongoing research is showing the pivotal role citizens can play in monitoring and managing lionfish, but permitting divers to remove these fish using scuba gear will need to be applied with caution and strictly regulated to avoid illegal fishing.” 

“If implemented correctly, removal events could protect selected areas from the adverse effects of lionfish, while at the same time help to establish rich and deep links with local communities, strengthening responsibility and surveillance at corporate and social levels, and stimulating public environmental awareness.”

The scientists emphasize that this remedy can be useful in helping marine ecosystems, but must be carried out properly by targeting lionfish without impacting native species.

The study is published in the journal Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems.

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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