$265,000 Grant For Bermuda Lionfish Task Force

May 30, 2013

[Updated with video] The Darwin Plus fund of the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has allocated approximately $265,000 to the Bermuda Lionfish Task Force, Minister of Environment and Planning Sylvan Richards said today [May 30].

“The Darwin Plus fund is an important part of the UK Government’s network of support for conserving biodiversity and natural ecosystems in the overseas territories [OTs],” said the Minister.

“As island ecosystems, the UK OTs are particularly vulnerable to invasive alien species, and the UK has pledged both financial and logistical assistance to help tackle this issue in particular.”

Minister Richards with members of the Lionfish Task Force:

photo 3 lionfish

The Minister said the first lionfish was found in Bermuda in 2000, and divers have noticed ever increasing numbers on our reefs since then.

“This rapid invasion of the lionfish across the region is of great concern for many reasons. Lionfish are voracious predators that consume large numbers of small fish, yet there are no known predators of the lionfish themselves, so their population continues to grow unchecked,” continued Minister Richards.

“Lionfish are already affecting local fish populations, and this could lead to further impacts on Bermuda’s coral reefs and other marine habitats. With 18 venomous spines in their fins, lionfish also pose a risk to people who might encounter them during fishing, diving or snorkeling activities.”

“In October, 2012, the Bermuda Lionfish Task Force was established to co-ordinate local efforts to control lionfish and limit their impact on our environment and our economy. The Task Force represents a growing number of government departments, organizations from the science, education, and dive communities, commercial fishermen, NGOs, the corporate and private sector and interested individuals.

“The Task Force is currently producing a Bermuda Lionfish Control Plan, a guide for implementing the research and management activities necessary to develop the most effective long-term control strategies for lionfish in Bermuda.

“To support the priority research components of the plan, the Task Force submitted an application entitled the “Bermuda Invasive Lionfish Control Initiative” to the Darwin Plus: Overseas Territories Environment and Climate Fund under Defra.

“The grant proposal was written by collaborators from the Ocean Support Foundation, the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, the Bermuda Zoological Society and the Bermuda Government Departments of Conservation Services and Environmental Protection. We are here today to celebrate the award of £169,898 (approximately $265,000) from the Darwin Plus fund to further this vital research.”

Minister Richards full statement follows below:

I am delighted to be here today to announce that The Bermuda Lionfish Task Force has received a grant from the Darwin Plus fund of the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), to further the research components of the Bermuda Lionfish Control Plan.

The Darwin Plus fund is an important part of the UK Government’s network of support for conserving biodiversity and natural ecosystems in the overseas territories (OTs). As island ecosystems, the UK OTs are particularly vulnerable to invasive alien species, and the UK has pledged both financial and logistical assistance to help tackle this issue in particular.

Lionfish, like this one here behind me, are popular aquarium fish that originally come from the Pacific and Indian Oceans. From a small number of fish released into Florida waters in the 1980s, lionfish have now spread throughout the western Atlantic, from Bermuda to Brazil, and across the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. The first lionfish found in Bermuda was collected in 2000, and divers have noticed ever increasing numbers on our reefs since then.

This rapid invasion of the lionfish across the region is of great concern for many reasons. Lionfish are voracious predators that consume large numbers of small fish, yet there are no known predators of the lionfish themselves, so their population continues to grow unchecked. Lionfish are already affecting local fish populations, and this could lead to further impacts on Bermuda’s coral reefs and other marine habitats. With 18 venomous spines in their fins, lionfish also pose a risk to people who might encounter them during fishing, diving or snorkeling activities.

At present, lionfish in Bermuda appear to be concentrated in deeper water and are found less often in the shallows, so there is still a window of opportunity to control this invasive population. Lionfish can be eaten, and this delicate white fish is often described as tasting similar to grouper. Targeting lionfish for the table can help control their population in a cost-effective manner, and this strategy has been implemented in various forms throughout the region. However, robust and innovative strategies are needed to tackle the challenge presented by a continual supply of lionfish larvae travelling up the Gulf Stream and the difficulties posed by the depths at which these fish are found locally.

In October, 2012, the Bermuda Lionfish Task Force was established to co-ordinate local efforts to control lionfish and limit their impact on our environment and our economy. The Task Force represents a growing number of government departments, organizations from the science, education, and dive communities, commercial fishermen, NGOs, the corporate and private sector and interested individuals. The Task Force is currently producing a Bermuda Lionfish Control Plan, a guide for implementing the research and management activities necessary to develop the most effective long-term control strategies for lionfish in Bermuda.

To support the priority research components of the plan, the Task Force submitted an application entitled the “Bermuda Invasive Lionfish Control Initiative” to the Darwin Plus: Overseas Territories Environment and Climate Fund under Defra. The grant proposal was written by collaborators from the Ocean Support Foundation, the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, the Bermuda Zoological Society and the Bermuda Government Departments of Conservation Services and Environmental Protection. We are here today to celebrate the award of £169,898 (approximately $265,000) from the Darwin Plus fund to further this vital research.

The grant work will focus on a lionfish population density and distribution study, development of a lionfish-specific trap for commercial fishers, evaluation of the impacts of lionfish feeding, and a population dynamics study to determine the extent to which the population is sustained by local reproduction versus larvae arriving from elsewhere via the Gulf Stream. The “Bermuda Invasive Lionfish Control Initiative” project will play an important role in generating the tools and data required for the implementation of an on-going Bermuda Lionfish Control Plan.

However, the Darwin Plus grant is limited to research activities, and it is only the first step towards procuring the many resources that will be required to make the Bermuda Lionfish Control Plan successful and to sustain it in the long-term. Efforts will continue to find funding for other elements of the plan.

The Lionfish Task Force will combine the resources of the Government with a diverse array of stakeholder-led activities so that we can make every effort to control the lionfish population at a level that will mitigate the long-term impact of this invasive species on native fish, reef communities, the island’s economy and public health.

I would like to thank Mr. Jim Gleeson, as Chairman of the Task Force, as well as all the recreational divers, dive shop operators, fishermen, scientists and educators for their efforts. I recognize that Bermuda is integrally linked to the Ocean; its health dictates our health. We need as much help as possible to meet this threat head on and spare no effort.

For information on the lionfish invasion and to report sightings or the capture of a lionfish, visit the Ocean Support Foundation website www.oceansupport.org .

Also, watch for the opening of the Bermuda Lionfish Task Force – Lionfish Exhibit and Invasive Species lecture series at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI) on June 4th.

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Comments (5)

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  1. About time! says:

    This is fantastic news! Well done to all involved. Maybe the dive companies should offer excursions to visiting divers so that they can watch them be speared….add some further money to the project. Hopefully we can rid them from our shores!

  2. smokey says:

    bda surrounded by water . maybe a plan to get rid of the lion fish would be helpfull. this is throwing money to the wind.spearfishing them is a joke. what 1000 spearfisherman a day searching for lion fish ha. ha.Why not bring back fish pots specialized with bait and ways to catch them. It still boggles my mind on how fish pots are banned while trawlers whitch catch far more fish trawl through our waters all the time. 24 sq miles of land surrouned by water and were made to believe that we can deplete the fish species , what a joke . how many fishermen do we have 100000000000. come on bda , be truthful. Its done to enhance the major companies that import fish with more money and job availability , end game!

    • @smokey

      the grant from DEFRA through Darwin Plus will provide money to study the lionfish in Bermuda, providing an estimate of its population size, demographics, reproduction, and feeding ecology to explain the eventual ecological impact and what fishing effort is required to halt that impact. you’re correct that spearfishing isn’t the solution, but those activities help highlight their distribution and density. the solution is an active fishery however, and there are ongoing investigations into creating a lionfish specific trap that excludes lobsters and reef fish. if you’d like to learn more about the research plan, feel free to come to BUEI Tuesday at 7pm to hear the details.

      and while i don’t have much to say on the issue of fish pots, they do not catch the same fish as the foreign fishing boats.

  3. Private Ryan says:

    It is my hope that the money goes to awareness and creating programmes that encourage safe and sustainable practices of keeping the lionfish numbers in check. A small group of deep diving cowboys can contribute, but very little. Let’s not forget the two losses, a number that will grow if divers are not properly trained, experienced, properly equipped and follow proper protocol.

  4. Jim says:

    Salaries….8 into $265,000 will not go far….