Article by: The Coral Reef Alliance
The increasing numbers of invasive lionfish in the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage Site and associated reef systems cause additional negative impacts on an already stressed ecosystem affected by overfishing, coral bleaching and ocean acidification.
In December 2008, ECOMAR took the lead in highlighting the invasive lionfish issue in Belize, and worked with the Belize Fisheries Department to raise awareness of the destructive nature of this invasive species and the problems that are anticipated as a result of their presence on the reef. This has resulted in the development of a comprehensive Belize National Lionfish Response Plan.
The goal of the Lionfish Response Plan will be to raise awareness on this new tropical fish, educate the key stakeholders on how they can become involved in protecting their future livelihood, determine the source of lionfish in Belize through scientific studies, garner renewed enthusiasm and interest in protecting the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System and the associated marine areas.
Quick response by ECOMAR, the Belize Fisheries Department, and the National Coral Reef Monitoring Network can possibly play a crucial role in controlling and managing the impact of lionfish in Belize. Perhaps this early response can help avoid a population explosion as was witnessed in the Bahamas.
In 2004 the first lionfish was sighted in the Bahamas. In 2007 they published the Draft Lionfish Response Plan. In 2008, the lionfish population exploded in the Bahamas. It is hoped that these initial timely efforts undertaken by ECOMAR, the Belize Fisheries Department, and the National Coral Reef Monitoring Network, will prevent a similar explosion of lionfish populations in Belize.
ECOMAR has recently received a small grant from the Gulf & Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) for a Fisher folk Exchange whereby fisher folk from Belize were able to travel to the Bahamas for a workshop on lionfish handling and preparation techniques. The workshop included a classroom training session, field networking with Bahamian fisher folk, capturing lionfish and preparing lionfish for consumption. The Belizean fisher folk also had opportunity to liaise with the fishermen and organizations involved in managing the lionfish populations in Bahamas.
Ironically, due to the widespread invasion of the Lionfish, the Bahamas Fisheries Department is now developing creative techniques to promote the Lionfish as a commercial fishery in the hopes of controlling their population.
The Belize & Bahamas Exchange has served as an invaluable opportunity to share lessons learned from the Bahamas lionfish status and efforts. The Belize delegates have committed to lead capture and handling workshops focusing on acquired techniques and existing collection and management protocols. These workshops will be held throughout fishing communities in Belize and the fisher folk will also be able to share experiences and knowledge with other community members on a day to day basis.
Delegates included representatives from the Fisheries Department, Coral Reef Alliance/ECOMAR, Northern Fishermen Producers Cooperative, National Fishermen Producers Cooperative, Placencia Fishermen Producers Cooperative and the Rio Grande Fishermen Producers Cooperative.