NOAA officials spotted and nabbed this juvenile lionfish, above, in Fish Bay earlier this month.
As officials continue monitoring sensitive reefs for signs of lionfish, an invasive species which could potentially devastate local fish populations, the fourth specimen was captured off the shores of St. John this month.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials spotted the lionfish in Fish Bay on Thursday, July 15, and captured the fish on July 16, according V.I. National Park’s Chief of Resource Management Rafe Boulon.
“The scientists were out there on different work when they spotted the lionfish in Fish Bay,” said Boulon. “They went back out the next day and caught it. It was about five inches in total length, so it was still a juvenile.”
The discovery came on the heels of an extensive fish survey conducted by NOAA officials, Boulon added.
“NOAA had just finished surveying 180 different sites around St. John looking at fish,” said Boulon. “Then they were out at Fish Bay doing different work when they spotted the lionfish.”
Lionfish, native to Pacific waters, are voracious predators, capable of wiping out huge populations of juvenile fish, as evidenced in areas of the Bahamas. Scientists believe lionfish were introduced to the Atlantic Ocean in the wake of
Hurricane Andrew when a tropical fish tank was likely dumped into the sea off the coast of Florida.
Since then, the fish have spread south, wreaking havoc on Bahaman fish populations and coral health. Lionfish feed on fish integral to reef health, thus leaving the already stressed reefs even more vulnerable.
The latest capture brings the total number of lionfish caught in St. John waters up to four, all of which have been juveniles found in VINP waters. The first lionfish was captured at Waterlemon Cay in March and since then officials have nabbed the fish at Great Lameshur Bay and between Francis Bay and Little Maho Bay.
The Love City tally is far less than what scientists in St. Croix have been dealing with, where more than 80 lionfish have been captured. Still VINP officials fear the impact lionfish could have on sensitive resources and will continue monitoring efforts, Boulon added.
“We will keep monitoring sensitive areas especially,” said the VINP’s Chief of Resource Management. “Anywhere we see a lionfish, we will try to get rid of it. They could be anywhere, even up to 200 feet in depth.”
“Since we can’t cover everything, we have been focusing on areas that are the most sensitive,” said Boulon.
Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ Division of Fish and Wildlife Chief of Environmental Education William Coles has been working diligently to get a handle of the territory’s lionfish problem as well. Anyone who spots a lionfish anywhere should call Boulon at 693-8950, extension 224, or call Coles at the lionfish hotline at 643-8900.