According to an official of the department, this is the first confirmed sighting of the lionfish and possibly marks the start of what is likely to be a slow increase in their numbers initially over the coming months, before a rapid expansion of the population over the next couple of years.
The discovery of this lionfish has resulted in the implementation of the second phase of the Lionfish Response Plan, which was drafted by the Natural Heritage Department earlier this year in collaboration with the Fisheries Division, the Coastal Zone Management Unit (CZMU) and the University of the West Indies (UWI).
It has also triggered the start of a planned in-depth scientific monitoring and research programme involving the UWI, the CZMU and the Fisheries Division along with several volunteer fishermen and divers.
Since the beginning of the year, following the first phase of the Lionfish Response Plan, the Fisheries Division and the CZMU have been advising the fishing and diving communities, as well as the wider public, of the imminent arrival of Lionfish in Barbadian waters.
“Once again we are reminding all divers, fishers and sea bathers to be on the lookout for these fish and to immediately report the location of any that are spotted directly to the Fisheries Division, the Coastal Zone Management Unit or through the recently established UWI Lionfish Hotline at 824-8361,” the fisheries official stated.
He continued: “It should be reiterated that these fish are not indigenous to the Caribbean and should not be confused with the native bottom-dwelling scorpion fish that is often locally referred to as a lionfish. Unlike the local scorpion fish which spends most of its time resting on the seafloor and is very hard to spot because of its cunning camouflage, the invasive lionfish, with its magnificent red and pink ‘plumage’, is very easy to spot as it glides slowly around the reef. It is quite unlike any other reef fish in Barbados, having a white to cream coloured body with red to reddish-brown vertical stripes and the characteristic striking ‘feather-like’ pectoral and dorsal spines.”
The fisheries official added that these spines could inject venom into the skin of anyone handling the fish incorrectly.
“If stung by a lionfish, apply heat to the injury immediately by immersing the wound in water as hot as can be tolerated without burning the skin, as this will break down the toxin. Persons are also advised to seek medical attention. Note that treating the wound with ice will not denature the toxin and, is therefore, not an effective treatment,” he stressed.