The latest confirmed lionfish netted at Francis Bay was the largest one captured to date off Love City’s shores.
Confirming fears of a widespread infestation, officals caught the third confirmed lionfish on Monday afternoon, April 26, at Francis Bay.
A sighting of the fish was reported to V.I. National Park officials on Sunday afternoon, April 25, and V.I. Environmental Resource Station operation
manager Jamie Irving and Nick Przyusk, field technician for the University of San Diego’s St. John based sediment monitoring study, found the animal after just a few minutes of snorkeling in the area.
Irving and Przyusk netted the seven-inch fish — the largest lionfish found to date off St. John — near the rocks on the Little Maho side of Francis Bay.
The latest lionfish capture off Love City’s shoreline came as Department of Planning and Natural Resources scientists, V.I. National Park officials and volunteers organize a coordinated territoy- and Caribbean-wide effort to combat what has quickly become the biggest threat to local reefs.
As evidenced in the Bahamas, lionfish are capable of wiping out huge populations of reef fish — vital to the health of coral — in a very short amount of time.
Scientists believe the fish first entered the Atlantic Ocean in the wake of 1998’s Hurricane Andrew when a pet owner likely dumped a fish tank into the sea off the coast of Florida.
Since then, the species has devastated coral reefs fringing the Bahamas and scientists fear the same fate for much of the reefs in the Caribbean, where lionfish have no natural predators.
To combat the spread of the lionfish, scuba divers, dive operators and scientists throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands and Pureto Rico are joining forces to eliminate the species.
DPNR hosted a meeting in Cruz Bay with dive officials last week to share the latest information about the species and distribute markers for swimmers to deploy after spotting a lionfish.
Made of a wine cork connected by a line of flagging tape to a weight, the lionfish markers are simple and have proven to be an efficient way to pinpoint an exact sighting of the species, since a fish will often remain in the same vicinity for days.
With highly toxic spines, lionfish can seriously injure a swimmer unfamiliar with the proper technique for its capture. Lionfish markers are available at Friends of V.I. National Park Store and officials urge swimmers and snorklers unfamiliar with the species to use the markers and steer clear of the fish itself.