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Lionfish beyond reach of divers worry researchers


Associated Press 



ABOARD THE SUBMERSIBLE ANTIPODES (AP) — The invasive lionfish that crowds coral reefs and preys on native fish in the Atlantic's shallower waters is such a problem that divers in Florida and the Caribbean are encouraged to capture and eat them whenever they can.

Lionfish, which have venomous spines, are a well-documented problem in Atlantic coral reefs, where the foot-long, one-pound invaders from the tropical parts of the Pacific and Indian oceans live without predators and eat other fish voraciously. What's slowly coming into view is how deep into the ocean their invasion has spread.

Researchers and wildlife officials worry that lionfish may undo conservation efforts aimed at rebuilding populations of native predators such as groupers and snappers. Lionfish gorge on the young of those species, as well as their prey.

"They can eat pretty much anything that fits inside their mouths," Oregon State University lionfish expert Stephanie Green said.

Orgeon State Lionfish expert, Stephanie Green, counts number of Lionfish on sunken freighter, about 3 miles off the coast of Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

Divers are encouraged to capture and eat any lionfish they encounter to protect reefs and native marine life already burdened by pollution, over-fishing and the effects of climate change. And last month, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission waived the recreational license requirement for divers harvesting lionfish and excluded them from bag limits, allowing people to catch as many as they can.

But recreational divers max out around 130 feet deep, though. Researchers and wildlife officials rarely have the means to venture deeper than that, but they've realized the lionfish they can't see may be their biggest concern. ...more



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