Control of Lionfish in the Mesoamerican Reef

by Mesoamerican Reef Fund (MAR Fund)
Lionfish spotted during the derby
Lionfish spotted during the derby

On May 18, the first lionfish derby was realized in Guatemala.  It was held in front of the Motagüilla coastal community, in the Punta de Manabique Wildlife Refuge.

It was a private sector initiative, as two dive shops gather their efforts to organize this derby and making it happen: Water Quest and Big Dive.  Water Quest was the one that led the event. They did some research about how these activities have been done in other countries of the MAR region. They also got information about the existing regulation regarding lionfish derbies, required certification in other countries, and the needed equipment they are allowed to use to hunt down this invasive species.  

After getting all this information, Water Quest organized a couple of informative training workshops, inviting known divers that were interested in participating in the lionfish derby. 

Water Quest also got the pole spears or 'hawaiian slings', that are the type of harpoons required for hunting the lionfish. They also managed to get the storage bins that are used for keeping the dead lionfish. These were donated.

The Guatemalan Fisheries Administration (DIPESCA), also joined the organization of the event and was present the day of the derby to guarantee that lionfish was the only target species of the tournament, as well as no corals were harmed or collected from the water.

Almost 40 people participated in the derby, and 126 lionfish were killed - not a bad figure at all to be the first derby in the country.  The lionfish were donated to the Motagüilla fishing community for self-consumption. 

Another lionfish derby is being planned for the month of July.  This time, the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP) will also participate in order to take advantage of the event and gather biological information.  This time, the methodology (protocol) to estimate local lionfish density will be applied.

We look forward to sharing with you the results from this coming event. 

During the month of April, Guatemala will celebrate the Second 'Festival of the Sea' in Puerto Barrios, Izabal.

Many activities are being proposed for this popular event, including: a sand statues sculpture tournament and a wall painting tournament, music, aquatic activities, stands of information on: climate change, mangroves, fisheries, use of water, etc.

For the last day of the event, the fisheries authority and a fishing community of the Punta de Manabique Wildlife Refuge are organizing a lionfish rally.  They are planning on dividing the rally in two phases:

  • Catch of lionfish, and
  • Lionfish cooking demonstration

This shows that fishing communities from Guatemala have already identified the lionfish as a plague and want it out of their fishing ground, as this fish represents competition for them.

The initiative is also telling us that they are aware of the potential that the lionfish has as a food alternative, as long as it is handle it with the respective caution.

Do you think a rally is a good start for the Guatemalan fishermen?

Thanks for your support,

Tha MAR Fund Team

According to the Report Card 2012 for the Mesoamerican Reef of the Healthy Reefs Initiative (HRI), there are two important and disturbing facts about lionfish:

  • Lionfish are larger and more abundant on invaded reefs than in their natural habitat, and
  • Lionfish are always in season 

At their own rythm and possibilities, Fisheries and Protected Areas Authorities within the MAR have taken management actions that can decrease the extent of the lionfish invasion.

Also, as mentioned in our previous update report, Eloy Sosa PhD, from El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR) in Chetumal, Mexico, has developed a protocol that includes two simple methodologies to estimate lionfish population.

Fishing tournaments

These have become a very successful activity and widely accepted among authorities, civil society and the general community. The distinct advantage of these tournaments is that achieve multiple objectives simultaneously. In particular, being open mode activity to the local community and even tourists, fishing tournaments can be exploited for the purpose of environmental education and awareness, also capturing intense concentrated in an area bounded by what cause a real decline in lionfish abundance locally, at least for a while.

Depletion experiments: short-term successive captures

This method involves removal capture experiments or applied successively in a short period of time, with two to five successive occasions applied capture a set of stations or sub-areas within a selected target area in advance. In this case it is particularly critical that the experiment is short-term, that the whole series of successive catches check within five to seven days. This section considers a week: seven days, maximum duration of the experiment and a number of two to five times or successive revisions-with catching fish.

We will be happy to share with you the results of these two techniques as soon as any of them is being implemented in the MAR region. 

Once again, we would like to thank you for your constant support to face one of the main threats the measoamerican reef has these days.

Even with certified lionfish hunters in Honduras, and volunteers and fishers in Belice and Mexico, the lionfish continues to spread its invasion in the Mesoamerican Reef.

Hunting tournaments or 'derbies' have been organized in several areas of the MAR to eliminate as much of lionfish population as possible.

Eloy Sosa, a high standing professor from El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR) in Chetumal, Mexico, is working on a methodology to estimate lionfish density taking advantage of these derbies.  He is designing a methodology, also to estimate density but to be implemented by fishers, dive guides, NGOs and/or more volunteers.

The Healthy Reefs Initiative has also identified and named the lionfish one of the main threats to the MAR region, along with climate change, overfishing and others. 

We have got to keep supporting all these efforts, we cannot let this exotic animal to destroy our beautiful reef!

Please, let's help all these organizations and initiatives accomplish their goals to control lionfish!

After evaluating the current process for obtaining the license to hunt lionfish, staff rom the Roatan Marine Park (RMP), Honduras, has identified the need for better control over the sport to reduce the amount of damage to the sorrounding environment and spear holders alike.

The RMP offers now a recognized license to spearfish lionfish that is valid for two years.  For this, the interested person must sign a Memorandum of Understanding o fulfil the Honduran law, will learn spearing techniques and lionfish history.

Snorkelers can get licenses and will have to sign all agreements stated by the Fisheries Administration (DIGEPESCA, Spanish acronym).  They will be issued a different format of license and if they wish upgrade to a diving one they will have to go through the bouyancy check.

Vacationers will have to do the same as everyone else but when tehy return their spear they will receive a $10 rebate and the spear will be recycled into the local fisherman education program.

If the person has its own spear, the cost of the license will be of $20, if not, it will be of $40.

The license is property of the RMP and is issued on behalf of DIGEPESCA.  To renew the license, an accuracy workshop will be necessary.

Please keep helping us to train more people on the lionsih hunting the right way!

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Organization Information

Mesoamerican Reef Fund (MAR Fund)

Location: Guatemala - Guatemala
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Maria Jose Gonzalez
Executive Director
Guatemala, Guatemala
$4,269 raised of $95,000 goal
30 donations
$90,731 to go
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