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Costa Rica is officially going after the lionfish

June 8, 2015

The Southern Caribbean Artisanal Fishermen’s Association on Monday presented officials from the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry a plan to reduce the population of lionfish (Pterois), an invasive species that threatens Costa Rica’s fish and shellfish populations.

The plan, aptly named the “Protocol for the Capture, Extraction and Disposal of Lionfish,” outlines strategies for capture and consumption of the venomous invasive species.

Agriculture Ministry experts say the arrival in Costa Rica of lionfish in 2009 coincided with a dramatic decline of up to 80 percent in fish – mostly snapper – shrimp and lobster populations in the Southern Caribbean region.

Vice Minister of Waters Fernando Mora on Monday said officials hope the program will convert the threat into a success story that not only generates an alternative source of income but also contributes to the conservation of marine biodiversity in the Caribbean.

Some of the plan’s strategies started last year when the Environment Ministry began placing fishing nets and conducting regular inspections to collect the catch. Officials also began promoting lionfish capture among residents.

Carlos Espinoza, a representative of the Trichechus Foundation and one of the plan’s authors, explained that the nets have a special structure and use a type of bait that mostly attracts lionfish.

The plan also promotes conducting diving fishing tournaments and promotional campaigns to increase consumption of lionfish. The next tournament will be held in September.

Government agencies also will be offering special subsidies for fishermen who catch the species and will provide them with support for marketing their catch.

The species is considered invasive as it comes from the Indo-Pacific waters. The main problem is their ravenous appetite that can cause a significant imbalance in sea ecosystems but also an economic impact for local economies that rely on fishing. The problem even can affect tourism – a sting from a lionfish is extremely painful to humans and can cause nausea and breathing difficulties.

The largest of lionfish can grow up to 15 inches in length, but the average is closer to 1 foot. However, they are able to eat up to two fish per minute and wipe out 80 percent of native reef species within five weeks of moving to a new territory. A single female lionfish can spawn over 2 million eggs per year.

The new plan includes the creation of a database with information about the biology of the fish, and data collected by fishermen about the fish’s areas of expansion and the depths at which they reproduce.

Héctor McDonald, president of the Southern Caribbean Artisanal Fishermen’s Association, said he hopes the effort will serve other countries in the Caribbean region.

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