Guy Harvey Magazine

WIN 2012

Guy Harvey Magazine is focused on fishing, boating, scuba diving, and marine conservation. Portfolios from the world's best fishing photographers, articles on gear, travel, tournaments, apparel, lifestyle, seafood recipes, sustainable fisheries.

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Page 10 of 83

they are good to eat; so in spearing lionfish rather than grouper, snapper, or hogfish, this removes some fishing pressure on the more popular reef species and will help reduce the mortality of juvenile reef fish caused by the invasive lionfish. Second, the removal of significant numbers of larger lionfish means that those remaining are unable to prey upon larger individuals of the resident native fish populations. Perhaps the best way to get people involved is to hold a lionfish culling tournament. There would be the educational component when you register for the event, then the challenge of getting the most, the biggest (or smallest), and the creation of a tournament atmosphere, all while relieving the reefs of a very dangerous predator. In a meeting with the minister of the Department of Environment last week, I learned of the plan to have a specialized task force assigned to culling lionfish around the Cayman Islands. I agree with this move. The threat to the coral reef habitat is so great that there needs to be radical action taken. The individual dive operators should not have to do the all grunt work on their own. After all, the dive business in the Cayman Islands is the focal point of the tourism sector. Little Cayman also has the largest remaining population of Nassau groupers. This species, which is a favorite of divers and is the iconic Caribbean reef predator, may now have a new role in reef fish population restoration. Nassau groupers routinely follow divers and will consume lionfish speared by them. Some divers say that Nassau groupers lead them to lionfish a bit like trained hunting dogs. For decades, the Nassau groupers were traditionally fished heavily by artisanal fishermen at their spawning sites (locally called "grouper holes") over the winter full moons. The Marine Conservation Board here has protected these sites since 2003 and has just renewed that protection for another eight years. Good job! The Nassau grouper might be the knight in shining armor for reef fish populations. If this grouper, along with other large groupers and mutton snappers, can learn to attack and consume lionfish without the aid of divers, then natural controls will begin to take effect in reducing lionfish biomass. After all, in the western Pacific and Indian Ocean, lionfish populations are maintained at equilibrium by their natural predators such as large groupers, jacks, and the white tip reef shark. While the Cayman Islands have taken a proactive approach to the lionfish invasion, the same action needs to be taken on a wider scale to encompass Florida, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean. This is a major problem that continues to spread. However, I believe that since this is a problem created by man and not natural forces, we stand an excellent chance of setting it right. Fair winds and tight lines.

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