There is renewed call for Jamaicans to consume lionfish in a bid to control the impact of the species on marine life.
This comes as the Scotiabank Group launched its ‘Scotia Goes Green On Lion Fish: Let’s Eat Them to Beat Them’ campaign on March 22 at the University of the West Indies Port Royal Marine Laboratory and Biodiversity Centre in Kingston.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Donovan Stanberry, in his remarks at the launch, said the lionfish, due to its pervasive nature, has compounded the Government’s efforts to replenish the local fish stock.
He noted however, that the fish “is an enemy from which some good can be derived”, noting that it is “quite fortuitous that we can, in fact, consume the lion fish”.
Mr. Stanberry said the Ministry fully supports eating the fish, and salutes the “foresight and the vision and the corporate citizen spirit of the Scotiabank Group in lending a hand to the research being done by the UWI on the lionfish”.
The lionfish is classified as a marine invasive species and there is growing concern by marine scientists that the species will cause significant impact to the native marine life, especially commercially important fish and crustacean species.
The Ministry of Agriculture, which in 2010, embarked on an aggressive public awareness campaign to encourage the catching and consumption of lionfish, said at the time, that the fish, through a population explosion, was devastating the Jamaican reefs. The fish, the Ministry said further, was drastically reducing the abundance of coral reef fishes and leaving behind a devastated ecosystem.
The Scotiabank Group campaign involves partnership with the UWI Centre for Marine Sciences, which is undertaking a National Lionfish Project, aimed at conducting research to formulate and implement response actions to manage and control the lionfish species in Jamaica as well as far-reaching training and public awareness.
National Lionfish Project Lead, Dr. Dayne Buddo, said that Jamaica has been invaded by a fish “we really don’t know much about” and the UWI’s research is to understand “exactly what’s happening and where it is vulnerable to attack this enemy”.
Dr. Buddo, who is also a Lecturer and Academic Co-ordinator, UWI Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory, said that one of the hurdles is to get people to believe that the lionfish is not poisonous and while it has venomous spines, it is easy to handle and prepare for consumption.
He admitted that while it is impossible to get rid of the fish, “one thing we can surely do is to control the numbers and have some handle on the impact that this lionfish is creating,” noting that the UWI as well as other regional and international organisations “are working very hard to find ways of attacking this lionfish”.
President and Chief Executive Officer, Scotiabank, Bruce Bowen, said that the partnership with the UWI “allows us to deal with the problem, make sure that the research and the methods are sound”.
The lionfish (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) belongs to a group of venomous fishes and is related to the scorpion fish, which are found regularly in Jamaica. It is a “sit‐and‐wait” predator, capable of consuming large quantities of fish and shellfish daily and can negatively impact the fish stocks in a country. Its venomous spines, which protect the fish from becoming prey, are also capable of inflicting a very painful sting to humans.
The National Lionfish Project is part of a larger Regional Project entitled: ‘Mitigating the Threat of Invasive Alien Species in the Insular Caribbean (MTIASIC)’, which is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). It seeks to strengthen partnerships among government and non‐governmental agencies in Jamaica, as well as to promote regional cooperation.
The project in Jamaica is led by the Discovery Bay Marine Lab and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA).
At the launch, Mr. Bowen handed over a 2012 Toyota Land Cruiser to the UWI Centre for Marine Sciences to help advance the effectiveness of its lionfish research programme. Valued at $4 million, the vehicle will be used to transport specialist equipment and other tools required by the team for research and training across Jamaica.