Searching for Solutions

Scientists. Divers. Even chefs. All are working on ways to tackle the lionfish problem. Lionfish don’t have natural predators in the Atlantic Ocean. So, some scientists have tried to teach local predators to hunt lionfish.

Here's how: A diver would spear a lionfish and offer it to an eel or shark. The predators would eat the lionfish. Yet, these predators didn’t start hunting lionfish on their own. They expected handouts. Some even began to get aggressive with divers.

A diver spears many lionfish during a lionfish "derby."

Fishing Tournaments

Divers have had more luck managing the problem through lionfish "derbies." A derby is a day‑long event in a given location. The goal is to remove as many lionfish as possible. Teams collect lionfish by netting them or spearing them. They do this while diving or snorkeling.

One group that hosts derbies is the Reef Environment Education Foundation (REEF). From 2009 to 2018, they removed more than 23,000 lionfish from different sites.

Chefs prepare new lionfish recipes.

A Fishy Fare

Lionfish are not poisonous. They are venomous. The difference between them is how they are delivered. Poison must be eaten or absorbed to be harmful. Venom must be injected.

So, lionfish can safely be eaten. Chefs decided, “If we can’t beat them, eat them.” In 2010, REEF released a cookbook. It included many lionfish recipes. Chefs at many top restaurants have tried to find creative ways to prepare lionfish to get more people to eat them.

Setting a Trap

Steve Gittings developed a new way to trap lionfish. He's a chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Sanctuary System. He traps lionfish by using their natural behavior against them.

Lionfish like to gather around underwater structures. So Gittings created a trap. It hits the ocean floor, springs open, and lays flat. A few plastic objects float up, attracting the lionfish. A fisherman tugs on the trap. It closes, shutting in any lionfish.

We can’t do away with all lionfish. But managing their threat will help to keep our coral reefs healthy!

This trap, seen just off shore from Destin, Florida, snaps shut to capture lionfish.