Senator: 'Lionfish Could Bring Havoc,' Repeat of 'Worst Marine Invasions in History'

Craig Bannister
By Craig Bannister | September 27, 2013 | 4:55 PM EDT

"The lionfish could bring havoc to Louisiana anglers," Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) warned National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Acting Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan today.

In sent a letter to Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Acting Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Doug Gregory, Executive Director of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, Vitter warns that the lionfish invasion could deplete the supply of tasty ("commercially valuable") fish:


"The Lionfish is a predator species, capable of destroying populations of some commercially valuable fish, like the grouper or red snapper, on the Gulf Coast. The lionfish has largely been under the radar, but the administration needs to be diligent in its research and educating the public," said Vitter. "If we don't take this threat seriously, I'm concerned the lionfish could bring havoc to Louisiana anglers and the economic benefits from the fishing community."

Vitter says the lionfish threatens marine life that contributes $516 million to the Gulf region economy:

"According to NOAA, an unrestrained lionfish population may have negative consequences for commercially valuable species including grouper, snapper, and some crustaceans. The listed marine life make up a distinct portion of the lionfish's diet and are vitally important to the Gulf region's economic sustainability, having contributed over $516 million commercially to the Gulf region in 2012."

The senator fears a repeat of the lionfish's invasion of the Atlantic:

"It is imperative that we protect the Gulf reef ecosystems from the devastation this invasive species may cause.  Scientists believe the explosion in lionfish populations in the Atlantic ranks among the worst marine invasions in history. Considerable effort to raise public awareness should be made to defend the Gulf before the lionfish establish themselves at levels similar to those on the Atlantic Coast.  An important option to consider to control burgeoning populations is promoting the harvest of lionfish, particularly to the more than four million recreational anglers who fish the Gulf region each year."

Vitter concludes by asking if there are any plans in place or in development "to stop the invasive lionfish."

A NOAA website calls the lionfish "as graceful and beautiful as a butterfly, as ferocious as the most dangerous predator."