Lionfish Response Management Plan: US Virgin Islands

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Contributing Authors: Bernard Castillo II, PhD, University of the Virgin Islands; Jeanne Brown, The Nature Conservancy; Jenn Travis, St. Croix East End Marine Park; John Rubattino, CORE Foundation; Kitty Edwards, CORE Foundation; Nadija Packauslkas, CORE Foundation; Norm Gustafson, CORE Foundation Deep Diver Team; Zandy Hillis-Starr, National Park Service

The Indo-Pacific lionfish is rapidly invading the western Atlantic and Caribbean Sea. It is a voracious predator and has the potential to reduce native fish populations, adversely affecting local fisheries and ecosystems. It was first detected in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands in 2009. The potential threat posed by lionfish moved a number of organizations to action. To help coordinate the activities of the various organizations, the Virgin Islands VI EPSCoR program identified the need put together a management plan that would: 

• establish agreed upon goals and objectives for dealing with the lionfish invasion, and 

• provide a framework to coordinate activities among government and non-governmental agencies and local individuals, businesses and organizations to control the invasion of lionfish into US Virgin Islands waters. 

Having identified the need, VI EPSCoR made funding available to employ an individual to chair three meetings and write a management plan. VI EPSCoR also provided funding for travel for meeting participants. 

On September 21st and October 6th, 2009, representatives from local and federal government agencies (Department of Planning and Natural Resources Divisions of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) and Coastal Zone Management (CZM) and the St. Croix and St. John National Park Service) , non-profit organizations (The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the St. Croix Environmental Association (SEA) and Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), and interested individuals met on St. Croix to discuss the goals and objectives of the plan and to formulate an action strategy. 

Early on in the first meeting, it was determined that eradication of lionfish from USVI waters would be impossible given the lionfish’s rapid spread from its presumed origin in Florida through the Bahamas into the Caribbean. Instead the goal would be continuous suppression of lionfish populations through targeted and opportunistic removal.

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Prepared by: Jamie M. Kilgo
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