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Beware the Roar of the Lionfish

Calvert Marine Museum adds ­invader to teach about ­climate change

The lionfish invasion of Caribbean and southeastern U.S. is coming our way. When Calvert Marine Museum reopens this spring, a lionfish aquarium will show us a 360-degree view of the spiny, brightly colored invader.
    With no natural predators in our part of the world, lionfish are eating up the environs. They consume just about every marine creature in range — more than 70 different types of fish, invertebrates and mollusks — plus the coral reefs supporting tropical marine life.
    A lionfish’s stomach can expand up to 30 times its normal volume. Each is able to devour prey over half its body size as long as it can get its mouth around it. A single, small lionfish may reduce the number of juvenile native fish on any given reef by approximately 79 percent in just five weeks. When food is scarce, the lionfish metabolism crawls to a stop. They can live without food for up to 3 months and only lose 10 percent of their body mass. So it ­doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to starve them to death.
    In 2010, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration launched an Eat Lionfish campaign. The well-fed fish are reported to have higher concentrations of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than snapper and grouper, tilapia, bluefin tuna, mahi mahi, wahoo and other table-fish commonly served in restaurants. Lionfish are also very low in heavy metals like mercury and lead.
    Come spring, you’ll see the controversial creature in captivity.
    A $50,000 donation by a longtime museum supporter makes museum’s renovations and the addition of the lionfish exhibit possible.
    “We decided lionfish would be an excellent fit for our newly renovated exhibit because we are refocusing our content to increase awareness of issues related to climate change,” said Estuarine Biology Curator David Moyer, whose presentation inspired the donation.
    “We’ll be seeking wild-caught specimens from the Atlantic,” Moyer added. “Every lionfish removed from the ocean makes a difference.”

This fish ranks in the "beyond bad news
category of fish. The more fish that can be caught before it destroys local stocks of other fish, the better. I had a conversation with a fisherman in the Turks and Caicos island of Providenciales this past summer about this fish. If campaigns are conducted to reduce the lionfish, more sharks move into the local waters.