Lionfish causes concern for local fishermen

Beneath the calm waters of the Gulf Coast, there’s a species of fish that’s causing local fishermen to stop and take notice.

“It’s really been an anomaly until last year. You see a few here, a few there, and we’d be like, ‘Hey, there’s a cute lionfish,’” Bryan Clark, CEO of Silver Bullet, said. “Well about a year ago, I started seeing vast number of them and it really alarmed me. In some reefs there are more lionfish than any other fish observable.”

What’s alarming is that the poison in their spines means lionfish don’t have natural predators. They also consume at an alarming rate.

“They’re voracious eaters. They eat up to 20-30 times what a normal fish would eat in a day,” Chris Sherrill, executive chef for the Flora-Bama Yacht Club, said.

Which, according to the Gulf Coast Lionfish Coalition, may cause trouble for local fishermen and tourists if left unchecked.

“If snapper are competing with lionfish for food or juvenile snapper are being eaten by these lionfish, then it’s only a matter of time before that’s a problem,” Sherrill said. He also serves as vice president of the coalition.

“15, 20 years down the road, if these fish keep eating the babies, there’s not going to be anything out there on the reefs,” Michael Williamson, host of the television show “Catchin’ Fish,” said. “And it’s going to spread into the bays and the bayous too, because these fish can go anywhere.

The group is now working to educate the public about the lionfish and will hold tournaments and derbies to try and help reduce the population.

The Flora-Bama Yacht Club is trying its own solution: serving them on a platter.

“Right now we’re just experimenting with it. And in turn serving it for free to our guests,” Sherrill said. “So it’s been fun. It’s really cool.”

The club’s lionfish derby will take place May 1-4. For more information on lionfish visit: www.reef.org/lionfish.

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