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Luck Leads to Lionfish Capture

Feb. 2, 2009 — The careful eye of the staff at N2 the Blue dive shop in Frederiksted resulted in the captured Monday of another lionfish, the second on St. Croix.
On Sunday, divers from N2 the Blue took two people diving at Rainbow Reef, located off Rainbow Beach in Frederiksted.
"We were previewing the pictures they had taken, and boom, there's a lionfish," said N2 the Blue owner Derrick Hill.
The N2 the Blue divers quizzed the people on where they shot the picture and called William Coles, chief of environmental education at the Fish and Wildlife Division of the Planning and Natural Resources Department. On Monday, N2 the Blue divers and Coles headed out to the reef in hopes of capturing the fish.
"We did a search pattern," Hill said.
Using a pole spear and a mesh bag, Hill captured the fish about 20 yards from where it was spotted Sunday.
"Today was a lucky dive," he said.
That said, he pointed out that the fish are toxic.
"If it gets too close to you, it can be awkward," he said.
Currently, the fish is still alive.
"But not for much longer," Coles said.
He plans to preserve the fish in alcohol so genetic studies can be conducted on the fish in hopes of determining its origins. However, Fish and Wildlife doesn't have the funds to pay for the study, so Coles hopes to get funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or a divers' environmental organization called REEF.
Coles suggested that if the fish's genetics match those of lionfish captured in Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, it's likely the fish swam here. However, if it matches the genetics of lionfish captured elsewhere, it's probable the fish arrived here via boat.
While Coles has alerted dive shops around the territory to the fact that lionfish have been sighted, he said he now hopes to come up with a laminated card to place on dive boats so visiting divers will watch out for the fish.
This is the second lionfish captured on St. Croix. (See "Lionfish, A Coral Threat, Found In St. Croix Waters.")
There were two other unconfirmed reports on St. Croix and one on St. Thomas, Coles said.
The fish, native to the Indo-Pacific region, often inhabit aquariums. They got a hold in the Atlantic Ocean and now the Caribbean after Hurricane Andrew devastated south Florida in 1992. People dumped aquarium contents into the ocean because they didn't have any electricity to keep the aquariums running.
Divers first spotted them off Florida in 1994, but since then they've migrated all the way north to the Rhode Island coast, east to the Bahamas and south to the Dominican Republic.
Scientific studies at the Perry Institute for Marine Research's Caribbean Marine Research Center at Lee Stocking Island in the Bahamas showed no lionfish until 2005, when one was spotted. The number rose to two in 2006, to 107 in 2007 and in the first three weeks of the 2008 study season, to 153.
Lionfish have few predators. Nassau grouper is one, but Coles said they've been fished out in the Virgin Islands. They're often found under overhanging coral such as elkhorn. They frequently turn up in fish pots because they enter to eat the other fish.
If you can capture the lionfish by pushing it into a bag and killing it, that solves the problem. However, reporting the sighting and its location is the next best thing. The fish have spines that can hurt, but the injury isn't fatal. For more information about lionfish, click here.
Coles is the point person for making reports of lionfish sightings. If you're on St. Thomas or St. John, he'll alert the appropriate person.
Call him at 772-1955 or after hours at 643-0800.
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