Sun | Jan 20, 2019

Gleaner Editors' Forum | Lionfish controlled; parrot fish in murky water

Published:Tuesday | August 7, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Dr Karl Aiken, a director of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation.


Following the intervention of a number of stakeholders with marine interest, the lionfish, which once posed a threat to Jamaican waters, is now controlled.

However, there remains a challenge with getting Jamaicans to leave the parrot fish off their dinner plates.

Fisheries specialist Dr Karl Aiken told a Gleaner Editors' Forum last week that the lionfish species was on the retreat after a successful national campaign.

"Eleven years have now passed (since the fight started against lionfish), and to find a big lionfish, one has to go below 20 metres. Previously, you would have seen lionfish even in the shallows. They were everywhere!" Aiken said, heaping praises on Dr Dayne Buddo, who led a campaign against the fish, encouraging the populace to actually eat it.

But Aiken warned: "We will never completely get rid of them. [This] is because each couple of months, a new pulse of eggs come down in currents. The eggs come out of The Bahamas. The current comes and sort of bathes the top of Jamaica through the north coast."

He added: "These confounded fish will produce every two weeks, not two years or two months. So they will produce lots of eggs, but generally speaking, the danger has passed, and we are now fully in charge of that."

As for the parrot fish, Aiken said that stakeholder groups have bought into a worldwide campaign to protect them.

"Very belatedly, we have realised how important they are in terms of sand production. They eat bits of coral as well in trying to secure various algae to eat. What they produce, especially in the Pacific where they have some giant parrot fish called hump heads, they produce, each one, up to a tonne of sand per year," he explained.

But in the Jamaican context, as explained by the fisheries specialist, the problem is that the parrot fish is what people have in terms of choice because the population for most other species has deteriorated so badly.

"It's the major resource on our reefs. What's left? Apart from the fish sanctuaries, all the groupers, the jacks, and the snappers are, basically, gone, and what we are left with in the overgrown reefs, in many places with algae, the parrot fish are there," he explained.

"So to ban them completely here in Jamaica is a tricky situation," he added.