Year of the Lionfish: Almost 100 Fish Caught and Counting

By Karl Pytlik
St. John Coordinator
The CORE Foundation
Special to St. John Tradewinds

A close look at one of almost 100 lionfish which have been nabbed off-shore of St. John over the past year.

It was just one year ago this March when St. John had its first lionfish found and captured out in Leinster Bay.

At that time St. Croix had already seen quite a few lionfish, as did St. Thomas as well. We had heard about the fish becoming invasive to other islands in the Caribbean but now it was our turn. Without a plan or resources how could we deal with this overwhelming threat now that it was at our doorstep?

A man named Joseph Gulli came from St. Croix to talk to V.I. National Park staff and St. John residents about his organization called The CORE (Caribbean Oceanic Restoration and Education) Foundation and what they were doing on St. Croix to react to the lionfish.

I sat in on this presentation and could feel my stomach sink as he gave us the facts regarding this voracious predator. Female lionfish can lay 4,000 to 30,000 eggs in a brood. Capable of eating up to 20 juvenile fish a day. Venomous spines.

The situation looked grim with the VINP and other government offices already busy with so many issues happening in the Virgin Islands. Joe presented us a plan to help reduce the numbers of these fish on our reefs. The plan consisted of homemade “markers,” a three-quarter inch washer tied with yellow flagging tape then tied to a cork to float, and public awareness in the form of rack cards and educational posters.

With the belief that we could manage this problem by drawing on the resources in our community, we set in place a management plan based on local people wanting to do the right thing to help save our reef ecology as well as our island economy.

Well St. John, it is working!

Since that first capture there have been close to 100 captures from just about every bay around St. John including Lovango Cay, Congo Cay and Carval Rock. There have been 20 captures just in the month of February.

We have made the public aware through our circulated materials and public presentations. Even our visitors have been helping with this response program! Our efforts now expand to all of the U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos and Puerto Rico.

This program would not work without the help of our volunteers and partnerships here on St. John.  Thank you to CORE’s charter boat partners Sadie Sea, Cloud 9, Wayward Sailor and Kekoa and local dive shops Cruz Bay Watersports and 6-PAQ scuba.

The Friends of the Park Store, Maho Bay Camps, Concordia, and V.I. Environmental Resource Station have all been instrumental in educating the public, bringing in new volunteers or removing the fish from our waters. The organization thanks these businesses as well as the individual volunteers who are using their personal time to help search the waters and remove this fish from them.

Public awareness presentations will continue  this season at Maho Bay or Concordia on Wednesday evenings at 7:30 p.m.

CORE will also host more diver trainings in the month of March for divers interested in volunteering. Everyone is enouraged to attend a presentation and learn as much as possible about this invasive predator and what The CORE Foundation is doing about it.

For more information or to arrange a lionfish awareness presentation for a specific group or organization, call 340-201-2342 or email