A live lionfish was on display at CORE’s recent meeting.
With the invasive lionfish still a serious threat to local fish populations and coral reef health, the Caribbean Oceanic Restoration and Education Foundation continues its patrol of St. John waters.
Just last month CORE volunteers removed at least 50 lionfish from waters around St. John, explained CORE coordinator Karl Pytlik.
“Just this past month, we’ve seen a significant increase in lionfish,” said Pytlik. “We’ve removed more lionfish in the last month than we’ve seen the whole time we’ve been doing this. Two of our volunteers have removed about 100 lionfish over the past year or so and at least 50 of them were removed last month alone.”
Pytlik hosted a meeting on Wednesday night, October 26, at Iguana Grill to bring together all parties interested in joining the ongoing fight against lionfish.
“We’re trying to form a stronger network so we invited dive shop owners and operators, fishermen, charter boat captains, our volunteers and V.I. National Park rangers to come together and talk about the effort,” said Pytlik.
The lionfish meeting drew about 30 people from VINP enforcement rangers to recreational scuba divers all interested in removing as many lionfish as possible from local waters.
“There was a good representation of people who were there and I brought my live lionfish along so that drew a lot of interest as well,” said Pytlik.
Native to the Pacific and Indian Oceans, lionfish were introduced to the Atlantic Ocean in the wake of Hurricane Andrew, when someone likely dumped their fish tank into the sea.
A voracious feeder with no natural predators, lionfish have spread throughout the Atlantic Ocean and even into the Caribbean Sea, wiping out native fish populations — intrinsic to coral reef health — along the way.
CORE was formed two years ago as a way to tackle the lionfish threat in a unified effort across the Virgin Islands. CORE hosts trainings for volunteers, leads removal scuba trips and sends specimens off for study to learn more about the fish and how to combat its continual spread.
This season, VINP officials will be issuing additional permits for CORE volunteers to use pole spears in park waters in order to remove lionfish, explained Pytlik.
“What we do is train our volunteers and issue them plastic cards with their pictures so the VINP knows them,” he said. “When they go out to find lionfish, they notify park officials and are allowed to use the pole spear with the VINP permit.”
CORE continues to urge swimmers who spot a lionfish to release a marker and call the hotline at 340-201-2342 or email Pytlik at [email protected] to report the sighting. Markers, made of washers and tape, are available for free from local dive shops and the Friends of VINP Store in Mongoose Junction.
Anyone who wants to join the fight, CORE continues to host trainings and always needs volunteers, explained Pytlik.
The group’s next meeting will be on Wednesday, November 16, at 6 p.m. at a venue still to be determined. For more information about CORE check out the group’s website at www.nolionfish.com.