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One Fish, Two Fish, LionFish SHARK.
April 5, 2011 1:43 AM   Subscribe

Lionfish have invaded; several creative attempts have been made to eradicate the poisonous fish. Restaurants and the government are putting them on the menu, spear fishermen are organizing hunts, and more recently divers are training sharks to hunt them.
posted by Felex (50 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
I suggest inventing a rumour they have a vital role to play in traditional Chinese medicine and cure both baldness and impotence if dried and ground up into power. They'd be wiped out within a week.
posted by joannemullen at 3:23 AM on April 5, 2011 [30 favorites]


I'm pretty sure there's crude oil in those things
posted by Redhush at 3:47 AM on April 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


In 1992, Hurricane Andrew smashed an aquarium tank in Florida. About a half-dozen spiny, venomous lionfish washed into the Atlantic Ocean, spawning an invasion that could kill off local industry along with the native fish.

Unexpectedly powerful natural event releases man-made concentration of ___ into the ocean.
posted by dragonsi55 at 4:34 AM on April 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't understand the shark link because they don't actually say how the divers carried out their training. Did they hand out glossy menus to the sharks or print recipe tips in the newspaper?
posted by milkfish at 4:42 AM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]



In 1992, Hurricane Andrew smashed an aquarium tank in Florida. About a half-dozen spiny, venomous lionfish washed into the Atlantic Ocean, spawning an invasion that could kill off local industry along with the native fish.

Unexpectedly powerful natural event releases man-made concentration of ___ into the ocean.

Mad libs meet black swans.
posted by KaizenSoze at 5:06 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I live on St. Martin and we just started seeing them here within the last year. Right now there aren't so many, but in a couple years, they should be common.
posted by snofoam at 5:12 AM on April 5, 2011


I lived down in Roatan in '08-'09 and they wasn't a single one. From what I've been seeing on the Facebooks, they've been organizing lionfish hunts in the park on a weekly basis now an trying to get people to eat them. From my experiences in SE Asia, I'll just go ahead and assume now that the ecosystem will adapt to having them there, as they're fucking pervasive.

In regards to the training of the sharks, I wish them luck with that one. I'm willing to bet that they're feeding them to the reef sharks that they've assimilated with on the south side of the island and whom regularly participate in the organized "shark dive". These sharks have been baited with chum for years now and aren't about to give up a good thing and go for a hunt on their own.

I'm thinking of going back down for a week at the end of the month for a look-see. It's a beautiful place.
posted by jsavimbi at 5:33 AM on April 5, 2011


Cayman Islands here. We see these all the time - very pretty - but seem to be having quite an impact on the reefs here. I did a night sub trip last week with a visiting friend and we saw quite a few of them down to 80-90 feet that were quite unafraid of the tarpons out on night feeding patrol.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 5:38 AM on April 5, 2011


Captain Edward Jellico to the rescue!
posted by dhens at 5:41 AM on April 5, 2011


I just watched an episode of SpongeBob where Patrick fights a lionfish, complete with mane, gladiator style. I said to the kids "lionfish? surely that should be sealion!" They just looked at me blankly, so I assumed they'd flunked marine biology. Now it turns out that's a real fish, so the last laugh is on me.
posted by DU at 5:43 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have friends in Roatan, and the first lionfish were spotted in 2009, now they are pretty common. I was also in Bahamas in 2009 and there was a group from the national aquarium hunting them there. Apparently they had quite a bit of trouble with attracting sharks once they had caught a few, but they said the sharks mostly spit them back out, so I'm not sure how easy it is going to be to get the sharks to eat them on their own.
posted by snofoam at 5:51 AM on April 5, 2011


OK, fish fanciers, how long would it take lionfish to swim (or be washed along, or dragged along trapped in debris, etc.) from the Indian and Pacific oceans to the Bahamas and why have none ever done so?

Are the waters between the two areas so cold and dangerous that no mating pair or pregnant female or fertilized eggs or larvae have ever in a million years, or however long lionfish have been around, accidentally made and survived the voyage one way or another? I know it's half way around the world, but it's open sea and these fish can live ten or fifteen years. The currents would just be dead against them the whole way?
posted by pracowity at 6:08 AM on April 5, 2011


How easy is it to remove the poisonous fins? What happens if they are cooked improperly?

I am curious whether it's on a blowfish scale or just a stomachache.
posted by amicamentis at 6:18 AM on April 5, 2011


They need to attach cameras with tracking software to those sharks...
posted by 445supermag at 6:39 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


pracowity- the ocean has ecological barriers that bound species ranges just as much as mountain ranges do for land animals.
posted by bendybendy at 6:44 AM on April 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


I go lobster hunting every year in the Bahamas with some buddies. Some of us have been doing it annually for about 20 years. We first started noticing the lion fish in 2008, but it was rare with only a few of us seeing one. Last year they were very prevalent, each of us seeing several.

The rumor I heard was that they were somehow transported in cruise ships' ballast. Whether true or not, I do not know.
posted by Tavern at 6:46 AM on April 5, 2011


Symptoms noted included sharp pain, swelling, redness, bleeding, nausea, numbness, joint pain, anxiety, headache, disorientation, and dizziness.

That's only from getting stung on the hand though, don't know what happens if you ingest the venom.
posted by Elmore at 6:47 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


milkfish: "I don't understand the shark link because they don't actually say how the divers carried out their training. Did they hand out glossy menus to the sharks or print recipe tips in the newspaper?"

The layout of that article is confusing; there's more information on each step of the slideshow.

"At the beginning, the divers just killed lionfish and fed sharks with them to get the sharks to develop a taste," said photographer Antonio Busiello, who observed the process in action.

"In the second step, to have the sharks develop an interest in hunting them, divers started to leave wounded lionfish so that the sharks could taste them. After a while, [the sharks] did start to hunt them and go after them."

posted by specialagentwebb at 6:51 AM on April 5, 2011


RIP Leslie Nielsen. He did his part while among us.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 6:57 AM on April 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


How the fuck do you train a shark to do anything? And please, break it down into 3 or 4 steps.
posted by Fizz at 7:00 AM on April 5, 2011


How the fuck do you train a shark to do anything? And please, break it down into 3 or 4 steps.
I was wondering the same thing.
Here's a youtube clip on How to Train a Shark
posted by alight at 7:05 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's also a theory that they're descended from lionfish deliberately released into the sea by aquarists who didn't want them any more. (Pterois volitans, the species of lionfish these seem to be, are fairly common in the aquarium trade - but they grow big, need huge tanks, and will eat any tankmate that looks like lunch.)
posted by Catseye at 7:19 AM on April 5, 2011


Whenever there's more than three of something somewhere it seems like we determine to put an end to such dangerous non-human tomfoolery.
posted by tumid dahlia at 7:35 AM on April 5, 2011


Whenever there's more than three of something somewhere it seems like we determine to put an end to such dangerous non-human tomfoolery.

That's a weird way of looking at it. Economics of the island aside*, the lionfish and other non-native species upset the ecological balance to the point where they can gravely accelerate the death of the other species native to the reef who have had millions of years in which to establish a sustainable food chain. The problem with the lionfish is that not only has it no predator, it eats everything else, destroying all of the symbiotic relationships that allow the ecosystem to thrive. It is not nature getting around to stirring the pot, it's a slow-moving holocaust bent on destruction.

* Roatan will screw itself in the end out of ignorance, greed and overpopulation, but at least they're taking their sweet time about it.
posted by jsavimbi at 7:47 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


St Thomas, USVI here and we've been dealing with these buggers for the last year and a half or so. There are at least two volunteer organizations of divers who are trying to educate the public and go out hunting them whenever they get a report of a new sighting. At the beginning it looked like we were winning the war but now things don't seem as certain. It's kind of strange though, in a place that talks a lot about ecology and preserving our ocean resources, to see all these glossy posters up saying - "If you see this fish please kill it immediately."
posted by Bango Skank at 8:19 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


How the fuck do you train a shark to do anything? And please, break it down into 3 or 4 steps.

There were some horrific shark attacks on humans in the Red Sea (including a death) that were traced to a shark that had been hand-fed by a diver. One step.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:25 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


On curacao the deal is that any diver that spots one marks the spot and reports it. These animals don't move around all that much and that's usually enough to have somebody come in and kill them.
posted by DreamerFi at 8:26 AM on April 5, 2011


I was diving off the southwest coast of Cuba in January, and the reefs there were infested with lionfish. The divemaster at our hotel brought a spear gun out with him on most dives, and he could usually bag three or four without even really making a point of it.

Back at the resort, he filleted them for us and the chef at the beachside restaurant dipped them in a light batter and fried them for us. Delicious. Nothing wildly unique, just a pretty tasty whitefish, akin to cod or haddock - and of course so fresh the fillets curled a bit in the fryer. A fine meal. Plus there was the sheen of predatory-species-elimination altruism to it, like, "Well, no, I don't really need another piece, but I sure do want to do my part to keep the reef healthy."

As far as ingesting venom, it's definitely not a blowfish situation. The venom, as the divemaster explained it, is present only in the spines and releases only if they pierce something. I got the sense it was a bit like a stingray's stinger, mechanically speaking. In any case, as long as you remove the spines fully intact as you skin the fish, there's no reason not to eat it.

I could see some of the Caribbean resort scene's better restaurants adding lionfish to the menu as a kind of delectable do-your-part-for-the-reef catch of the day special. Get some creative chef to figure out a way to present them at table striated with foams and reductions mimicking their natural colouring. Serve 'em at a discount. Take our lionfish - please!
posted by gompa at 8:30 AM on April 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm more pleased to learn that it is possible to train sharks to do my bidding than I am about this monkfish invasion or whatever.
posted by The Lurkers Support Me in Email at 8:30 AM on April 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


On post-view, I see from the "restaurant" and "government" links that there are already some advocates of this conservation gastronomy idea. Good on 'em.

Oh and by the way, apparently the big thing with lionfish - even more so than any given invasive species - is that they are voracious predators and target the young of other species preferentially. Our divemaster told us they form these little circles around recently spawned reef fish, forming an impenetrable cordon of poisonous spines, and then they just feast on the surrounded hatchlings. Which of course is much worse for the overall population of those species than if they took down the odd adult wrasse or something.
posted by gompa at 8:39 AM on April 5, 2011


How the fuck do you train a shark to do anything? And please, break it down into 3 or 4 steps.

Poison...
Poison...
Poison...
Tasty fish!
posted by Flashman at 8:40 AM on April 5, 2011


The rumor I heard was that they were somehow transported in cruise ships' ballast. Whether true or not, I do not know.

NOAA says that there is no evidence to support that as a vector, but it is a common way that alien fish species are introduced to different areas. For my money, it's a more likely scenario than a half dozen escaped fish creating the problem.

Fun aside: as aggressive predators lionfish are popular as pets, and if you ever encounter one in a fishtank, take the arm of a pair of sunglasses and waggle it outside the tank in front of the fish, you can get to see some wonderful hunting behavior as the lionfish throws its pectoral fins forward in a sort of net to trap the perceived prey before it eats it.

You can do the same thing with puffers and get them to chase the sunglasses arm all across the tank like a puppy looking for a treat. I've completely enraptured people at fish-stores with my ability to control the fishes.
posted by quin at 8:50 AM on April 5, 2011


In any case, as long as you remove the spines fully intact as you skin the fish, there's no reason not to eat it.

I wouldn't bet my life on it, but I'm pretty sure that the venom isn't poisonous either way. So even if you didn't remove the spines, eating them most likely wouldn't cause you any harm, though if you jabbed your hand on one it might suck.
posted by quin at 8:56 AM on April 5, 2011


How would one go about getting a job as a spear fisherman? I can dive and shoot a gun, are those the only requirements?
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:08 AM on April 5, 2011



- Well, I was wrong. The lizards are a godsend.
- But isn't that a bit short-sighted? What happens when we're overrun by lizards?
- No problem. We simply release wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. They'll wipe out the lizards.
- But aren't the snakes even worse?
- Yes, but we're prepared for that. We've lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat.
- But then we're stuck with gorillas!
- No, that's the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.

posted by Behemoth at 10:03 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


How easy is it to remove the poisonous fins? What happens if they are cooked improperly?

It's the spines in the fins that have the toxins, the flesh is perfectly edible.

This is one of those stories that you really only figure out what was really going on, in retrospect, as an adult.

My (divorced) natural dad used to take me and my brother fishing a lot when we were kids. In retrospect I realize this is because my dad was broke a lot, so it wasn't just cheap entertainment, but also a way to feed us something decent on our weekend visits.

That's pretty brilliant, really. Disguise an outdoor activity as fun, tire the kids out for cheap/free and then get a free dinner out of it. We'd even hunt for our own bait with a bait pump, digging up tube worms or blood worms from harbor facing beaches. We'd usually catch halibut, sea bass, the occasional small shark or sand shark.

Except one time the catch was pretty slim and we'd caught lionfish and a couple of small halibut. I can't recall exactly if we brought it home because we were that hungry, or if my brother or I were so whiny about not throwing it back or a combination of both, but we brought that lionfish home for cleaning and cooking.

My dad spent probably an hour cleaning that damn fish, cursing and grumbling the entire time. It wasn't big. Maybe the size of a baseball when you took all the fins away. But he probably got stuck like a pincushion while cleaning the spines off and skinning that fish. On a scale of 1-10 for a guy who surfed reefs and knows what getting stung by a stingray or sandshark it was maybe a 4 or 5, but still. That's still akin to diving head first into a bee hive just to get a few handfuls of honey for his kids.

Sadly, I don't remember how the fish was. I was a kid. It was fish. It was edible.

Thanks, Dad.
posted by loquacious at 10:09 AM on April 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


I said to the kids "lionfish? surely that should be sealion!" They just looked at me blankly, so I assumed they'd flunked marine biology. Now it turns out that's a real fish, so the last laugh is on me.

DU, never bet against children when animal species identification is on the line.

/ Goes double for dinosaurs.
// Part of the NSF budget should go to paying 1st-graders to examine new specimens to see if they're already catalogued.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:10 AM on April 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


The national geographic link does a good job of showing how they train the sharks, you need to click on the next picture and read the new info under them.
posted by Felex at 10:12 AM on April 5, 2011



"At the beginning, the divers just killed lionfish and fed sharks with them to get the sharks to develop a taste," said photographer Antonio Busiello, who observed the process in action.

"In the second step, to have the sharks develop an interest in hunting them, divers started to leave wounded lionfish so that the sharks could taste them. After a while, [the sharks] did start to hunt them and go after them."
posted by Felex at 10:13 AM on April 5, 2011


I know it's half way around the world, but it's open sea and these fish can live ten or fifteen years.

Not without eating, they can't, pracowity. Fish aren't exactly on the bear/dog level of scavenging intelligence. If they are in unfamiliar surroundings, their usual "prey" clues are missing.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:14 AM on April 5, 2011


"At the beginning, the mods just killed comments and fed newbies with them to get the newbies develop a taste," said mefite My Name is Antonio, who observed the process in action.

"In the second step, to have the trolls develop an interest in hunting them, mods started to leave wounded comments so that the trolls could taste them. After a while, [the trolls] did start to hunt them and go after them."
posted by All Out of Lulz at 10:25 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


That Hurricane Andrew story smelled a little fishy to me, turns out it's probably not true.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:54 AM on April 5, 2011


I wish people weren't responsible for fucking up entire ecosystems, but it please me greatly whenever the final step to any plan is "and then we eat them!"
posted by danny the boy at 11:51 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Like is there some word that describes the feeling you get when you realize predation is not only an acceptable means of expression, but an altruistic solution to a problem? I mean, besides 'joy'?
posted by danny the boy at 11:54 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's pretty brilliant, really. Disguise an outdoor activity as fun, tire the kids out for cheap/free and then get a free dinner out of it.

Yes, a great solution, but also part of the problem.

Currently, there is no spear, conch, shrimp or line fishing inside the Roatan Marine Park, much to the chagrin of the locals, most of whom spent generations fishing right off the beach in the reef areas when they couldn't get out to the water channels beyond the reef.

They also ate most of the wild deer and iguana (nicoy), which remains a popular menu item even though a protected species. And they still have hunger at times, so when the guys from a community go out and return with a boatload of conch to feed the village and sell the shells to the fucking cruiseshippers, it ends in an armed standoff with the cops, which means that after the cops save face, the village ends up depopulating a portion of the reef, which ends up neglected and subsequently damaged.

So sending the kids out into the reef with spearguns and nets after you've spent years of resources educating them about sustaining the environment and preserving it to fleece divers and tourists, you undo all that and next thing you know, reef fish and locally caught lobster tails are back on the menus at the local restaurants, because if you send a kid out there to fish, he's going to bring something back with him, and snapper's easier to eat than lionfish.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:07 PM on April 5, 2011


Just a note of clarification:

Poisonous means you will be hurt (poisoned) if you eat it, like a poisonous mushroom. These fish are NOT poisonous.

Venomous means that you will hurt if it bites or stings you, like a venomous snake. These fish ARE Venemous.
posted by I am the Walrus at 12:07 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, a great solution, but also part of the problem.

Oh, I agree, and in retrospect I wonder how many of our catches were "legal" or simply loopholed as "legal" because my brother and I were under the age where a license was required. I don't ever remember measuring fish to see if they were mature enough.

I also wonder about the wisdom of eating halibut caught in a busy/wealthy pleasure craft harbor. Back then people were probably dumping whatever they wanted out of their waste tanks right into the water.

If it helps any, this was in Southern California. No reef fishing/hunting here.
posted by loquacious at 12:29 PM on April 5, 2011


Make the lionfish kung fu masters and give the sharks lasers, and I'd totally buy that comic book.
posted by Zed at 5:06 PM on April 5, 2011


I'm pretty sure I bought that comic book somewhere between Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters.
posted by loquacious at 5:10 PM on April 5, 2011


Just a note of clarification:

Pedantic means to be overly concerned with minute details or formalisms, especially in teaching.

Nitpicking means to be excessively concerned with or critical of inconsequential details.

Just teasing you, I am the Walrus.

Mostly.

But you do have some nits on your shoulder.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:25 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


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