Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific but are now established along the southeast coast of the U.S., the Caribbean, Bermuda, and parts of the Gulf of Mexico. How did the fish get to the Atlantic? While the exact cause is unknown, it's likely that humans provided a helping hand. Experts speculate that people have been dumping unwanted lionfish from home aquariums into the Atlantic Ocean for up to 25 years.
Since lionfish are not native to Atlantic waters, they have very few natural predators. They are carnivores that feed on small crustaceans and fish, including the young of important commercial fish species such as snapper and grouper. Lionfish have the potential to greatly affect native fish populations, ecosystems and commercial fishing industries.
Lionfish are very beautiful fish that can grow up to 19in (47cm) and inhabit all marine habitats from the surface down to 1000ft (300m). They carry 18 venomous spines (13 dorsal, 2 pelvic and 3 anal) to deter potential predators, and although not deadly to humans can be exceedingly painful.
One of the keys to the lionfish success as an invasive species is their reproductive rate. Lionfish become sexually mature after only one year, and reproduce throughout the year, approximately every 4 days. They lay clusters of eggs between 12 and 15 thousand at a time and a single female can lay up to 2 million eggs a year.
Very dense populations of lionfish can consume up to 460,000 prey fish/acre/year. Where lionfish are found in large numbers, populations of important reef fish such as parrotfish and wrasse can be reduced by as much as 90% and will continue to consume native species at unsustainable rates. Lionfish are most active at dawn and dusk when they do most of their hunting, they are very territorial and will stay on the same section of reef for an extended period of time. They are also very resilient to parasites in comparison to native species.
At Dive Bermuda, we have a shoot on sight policy towards lionfish. All of our instructors hold lionfish culling permits, which is required by the Bermuda Government in order to carry a spear and catch invasive lionfish. However, if you would like the opportunity to hunt lionfish with one of our instructors we have written the PADI Bermuda Invasive Lionfish Culler Distinctive Specialty.
The course costs $250 per person and includes:
- A theory pack detailing the lionfish invasion, with a quiz for you to complete.
- 2 boat dives, where you will gain experience with an instructor in safely hunting and catching lionfish.
- A Bermuda lionfish culling permit tag.
- A full PADI specialty certification and card.