(Nassau, Bahamas) The Department of Fisheries has recommended that fishermen “cash in on harvesting” lionfish as a means of counteracting that voracious predator’s alarming growth rate. The meat of the lionfish is edible and “is in fact being used as a food source” in The Bahamas, Agriculture and Marine Resources Minister Lawrence S ‘Larry’ Cartwright confirmed. The Department of Marine Resources is hoping that fishermen can derive some economic benefit from the harvest and sale of lionfish, he told Parliament.

“This will not only directly benefit fishermen economically, but also, in the longer term, safeguard the critical balance in the natural environment,” he said. Director of Marine Resources, Michael Braynen, agreed. He pointed out that the Bahamas National Trust conducts workshops and hands-on demonstrations on how to prepare lionfish for personal consumption by properly removing and disposing of the poisonous spines. “Fishermen can learn handling and collection techniques and be trained to carefully collect lionfish using nets and spears, and handle and dissect them,” he said. “If we can get to the point where the fishermen can say, ‘I can make some money from this,’ then they will go and catch them.”

Mr. Braynen recalled an event in Green Turtle Cay, Abaco where residents held a lionfish derby. At the end of the event, they collected about 1,500 of the predators. The Department of Marine Resources wants to dispel the notion that the venomous spines of the lionfish are poisonous. Mr. Braynen warned that if persons are not aware of the presence of the spines, they can get injured and the wounds “are extremely painful.”

Already 16 scuba certified persons have been trained to collect lionfish, and 28 have been trained to gut and clean the fish. He said lionfish possibly found their way to Bahamian waters from South Florida where they were being bred. Having no known natural predator themselves, lionfish have been “rapidly reproducing, about five times a year. They are depleting the commercial stock of young lobsters, groupers, and conchs in Bahamian waters,” said Mr Braynen.

Minister Cartwright confirmed that the lionfish “continues to be a major concern.” In November the Department of Marine Resources conducted a National Lionfish Response Planning Workshop. The purpose was to establish management strategies and priorities for a proper response plan.

Among those attending the workshop included the College of the Bahamas’ Marine and Environmental Studies Institute, the BEST Commission, the Port Department, the Department of Public Health, the Ministry of Tourism, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the Bahamas National Trust, the Nature Conservancy, the Bahamas Reef Environmental Educational Foundation, Friends of the Environment, Dolphin Encounters, Atlantis, Stuart Cove Dive Bahamas, Bahama Divers, and the Department of Marine Resources’ Family Island officers. The National Lionfish Response Plan seeks to protect commercially important fish species, safeguard public health, and combat the spread of lionfish throughout the archipelago, Mr Cartwright explained.

The Department of Marine Resources is continuing its joint effort with the Marine and Environmental Studies Institute of the College of the Bahamas and other scientists to study the lionfish in order to determine how it might be controlled, he said. In December, a lionfish presentation was given to nurses and physicians at the Department of Pubic Health to allow communication with respect to treating patients who have been spiked by lionfish. Amendments to the Fisheries Regulations to allow for the use of certain apparatus in the efforts to reduce lionfish population, are presently being considered by the Attorney General’s Office. “Convinced of the value of research and the application of statutory instruments in this effort, we have committed to search out effective ways and means to reduce the lionfish population in our waters,” Minister Cartwright said.