The first time I went to Fiji, I had the most magical experience when I dove with seven large, beautiful lionfish. They glided effortlessly along the bommie wall. I have looked forward to seeing them again every time I have returned to Fiji. I never imagined that lionfish would be considered a menace.
However, according to Reef.org, invasive lionfish have become a huge problem to local fish species from North Carolina to South America. Part of the problem comes from the reproductive capability of these lionfish. They can become sexually mature within one year and produce over 2,000,000 eggs per year during a 15+ year life span. Whew, that is a lot of lionfish! It is reported that they have fully invaded the Caribbean in less than three years! Pack that punch with a few of the other quick facts I found on their website:
- Venomous spines deter predators
- They eat up to 56 different varieties of fish
- Heavily populated areas can consume 460,000 prey fish per acre per year
- They live from the shore all the way down to 600’
In other parts of the world (where lionfish are considered an invasive species), there are now lionfish cookbooks, fishing derbies, and hunting courses, and specialty certifications, all centered around eradicating these predators who have turned up in an ecosystem that does not know how to handle them.
However, here in Maui waters, lionfish have a very different story…
John Hoover’s excellent book, “The Ultimate Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fishes”, tells us that we have the endemic and unique to Hawaii nohu pinao (Hawaiian name for dragonfly) which are separated into two species Pterois sphex (layman’s name=Hawaiian Red Lionfish, also known as the Turkeyfish) and Dendrochirus barberi (layman’s name=Hawaiian Green Lionfish).
The Red Lionfish grows to about 8 inches and generally eats small crabs or shrimps. The Green Lionfish grows to only 6.5 inches and hunts small fish and crustaceans. Many of these lionfish have been collected for the aquarium trade, which has made lionfish a scarcity on our reefs. Throughout several thousand dives that I have done in Maui, I have always become excited when I have spotted even one!
Since the invasive explosion in the Atlantic and Caribbean, we have had many visitors ask us about killing the lionfish here in Hawaii where they are infrequently seen. Contrary to popular opinion, we actually need to protect our beautiful and precious Hawaiian lionfish. So please enjoy them when you are lucky enough to see one!
We’d love to hear your thoughts on lionfish (whether experienced here or elsewhere) and if you’ve got a great photo to share, please post it on our Facebook page!