Four months after the lionfish (Pteoris) was first spotted in Barbados’ waters, there are still only two confirmed sightings of the fish on the island.
This was stressed by Marine Biologist at the Coastal Zone Management Unit, Caroline Bissada-Gooding, who said there were other possible sightings of the fish, but none was confirmed.
The lionfish was first spotted in Barbados on November 24, 2011, off the island’s west coast, and again on January 13 this year at Fisherman’s Reef.
??Ms. Bissada-Gooding added that there were also recent reports of lionfish being found by fishermen at Pico Tenerife on the north east coast about 220 feet deep, but that sighting was yet to be verified.
However, she noted that a number of people were mistaking stone fish for the lionfish.
Despite this, the Marine Biologist gave the assurance that officials would not be relaxing their vigilance and monitoring techniques for more sightings of the fish. "If there were two [lion]fish here already, there will be more, but we have to wait and see," Ms. Bissada-Gooding said.
However, she indicated that the Lionfish Invasion Response Plan drafted by the Natural Heritage Department, in collaboration with the Fisheries Division, the CZMU, and the University of the West Indies, would assist officials in addressing any increases in the predator. She further stated that the plan, which was implemented since June last year, was working well.
Ms. Bissada-Gooding said surveys on the island’s south and west coasts were conducted every four months to allow officials to collect data, and identify any changes in fish catches or in the numbers of reef fish early.
"We are doing baseline studies on the reef fish community, looking at what they are and the sizes so that if there are any changes we will be able to compare what it was before and what is present," Ms. Bissada-Gooding explained.
She added that Pile Bay, St. Michael, and Oistins, Christ Church, were the main areas targeted for the baseline studies because they were the largest landing sites for fishermen.
This would mean that officials will have data in terms of previous numbers to refer to and make detection and analysis easier if the lionfish invaded the waters.
She stressed that fishermen and divers were also playing an important part in the process as they were integral in keeping the momentum going, and reporting any changes in the fish population to the CZMU.
Ms. Bissada-Gooding said that the CZMU’s Facebook page was also monitored for comments. Admitting that calls to the hotline established to report fish sightings had "slowed down", she reported that "people are also calling for general information rather than just sightings".
However, the Marine Biologist gave the assurance that Barbados was well ahead in its planning for the arrival of the lionfish.
The lionfish gills have a red and pink "plumage" and the fish is easy to spot as it glides around the reef. It also has pectoral and dorsal spines which could inject venom into the skin of anyone handling it incorrectly.
If stung by a lionfish, members of the public are advised to immerse the wound in water as hot as can be tolerated without burning the skin so as to break down the toxins. Moreover, immediate medical attention should be sought.