Friday 15 May 2015

Lion Fish in Cyprus? What's the harm?

It isn't something we expected to see but we have heard stories about their presence in Cyprus for a few years now. With striking colours and impressive fans of projecting spines, why shouldn't we be excited about the Lionfish in Cyprus.

What are they and Where did they come from?

Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific region, which is actually quite a vast area.

They are instantly recognisable with their brown or maroon and white stripes, which cover the head and body while their long pectoral fins and dorsal spines fan out. Do not be fooled though because those spines can pack a  punch with a very potent venom

Thought to be nocturnal hunters, a lionfish will move slowly but steadily through the water and preys on small fish, invertebrates and mollusks in large amounts. They can be very territorial and cantankerous, as any underwater photographer trying to photograph a Lionfish face will tell you!

So, what is the problem with them in Cyprus?

Since Lionfish are not native to Cyprus waters, they are an invasive species. They are known to be aggressively invasive and can decimate fish stocks of an area very quickly.

Introduce them to an area like the Mediterranean and the already dwindling fish life is at grave risk.

There is, however, a glimmer of hope. There is a belief that groupers are a natural predator of the Lionfish and we do have plenty of those here in Cyprus. So maybe, if we allowed the groupers to thrive, there would be less concern over the Lionfish invasion, since it has a predator in the area.

Alternatively, there was a scheme introduced in the Atlantic when it was deemed Lionfish had invaded around the coast of the USA by NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

"Lionfish for Food" was set up in 2010 to encourage consumption of Lionfish. Fishermen and Divers are encouraged to actively hunt Lionfish and then consume them in the hope that it would control the invasive population while helping to reduce the strain on overfished species like Grouper.

However, before you pull out your filleting knife, be aware that the Lionfish has to be prepared in the proper way to make it safe to eat. So, do your research before you try something new!