Regional

Negril renews fight against lionfish

Thursday, March 27, 2014    

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NEGRIL, Westmoreland - FISHERFOLK, dive operators, lifeguards and hoteliers in Negril, Westmoreland, were recently reinforced with practical measures for managing the lionfish population through a public education forum organised by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA).

The more than 20 stakeholders who attended the forum at the Negril Community Centre were informed about the role individuals can play in controlling the lionfish population; how to safely handle and cook the lionfish; as well as first aid measures

if stung.

Emerging from that forum, the stakeholders, representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and NEPA developed strategies to monitor and record the presence of the fish, reduce its numbers and raise public awareness.

These strategies included the hosting of lionfish derbies and cook-off competitions, using the fish as the meal of choice for flagship community events, targeting hoteliers to implement a lionfish programme to train workers and guests alike and engaging local businesses to spread the word.

Nelsa English-Johnson, project coordinator for NEPA's Centre for Agricultural Bio-Science International/United Nations Environment Programme (CABI/UNEP) Mitigating the Threat of Invasive Alien Species in the Insular Caribbean (MTIASIC) Project, said the meeting was a success.

"It was a very productive meeting. I was encouraged by the fact that the fisherfolk already have a good grasp of what to do and are actively harvesting the lionfish," she said pointing out that those who were sceptical at the beginning of the meeting were ready to join the fight to safeguard Jamaica's local fisheries by the day's end.

Lenford King, who has been fishing in the community for some 15 years, said he was happy to have gone to the meeting.

"It was a very informative meeting. As a fisherman we know some of these things, but I like the fact that we were reinforced to do certain things, like what we should do if we get stung," he said, adding that he was helping to reduce the lionfish population by catching them.

Hugh Johnson, a lifeguard at the Randel Village Hotel in Negril, said he will share what he has learnt with his manager and co-workers.

"Now when I go out on the beach I will look out for the lionfish and if I see any, I'm going to destroy it," informed Johnson, who has been a lifeguard for eight years. He said he was proud that his company had in stock the necessary supplies for lionfish management.

The MTIASIC project began in 2009 and will end this month. The project saw NEPA partnering with the University of the West Indies Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory to develop a number of strategies to manage the lionfish population in Jamaica.

"While we have made strides in lowering its numbers in our marine waters, we can never truly get rid of the lionfish. By continuing our public education through meetings like these, we can leave a foundation for the work to continue even after the project funded by the Global Environment Facility and the Government of Jamaica has ended," said English-Johnson.

The MTIASIC Project has over the years tracked the number of lionfish in Jamaican marine waters, analysed the species' impact on reef fish population, studied its biology and behaviour patterns, designed special traps to catch them and done widescale public education on how to safely handle the fish.

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