Lionfish are beautiful but because of their exotic looks they are prized specimens within the aquarium trade, and are exported all over the world. But just like their name certainly suggests, they are also aggressive predators and, as often happens, keeping beautiful animals in captivity can backfire. As lionfish emptied their owners’ aquariums of every other fish, their owners sometimes emptied their aquariums of them, and this is one theory for how lionfish were introduced into the Caribbean in the mid 1980s. But no matter how they got there, they have been causing havoc ever since.
Stories can help prevent repeating mistakes, but now today we’re left to look for the solutions. As it goes for lionfish, while their presence on the Mesoamerican barrier reef has devastating consequences, ironically, they could provide a much needed alternative target species for the growing fishermen population. They are one of the tastiest fish I’ve ever tried and Blue Ventures has been working hard to develop a new market for lionfish meat. It seems successful at the moment: fishers are starting to catch lionfish and people are eating it, but it’s still not enough, they multiply too fast and when lobster season starts everybody seems to forget all about lionfish. How can we convince the fishermen, instead of catching lobster, to go after these fish covered with venomous spines, beautifully striped spines? Maybe we could if the fishermen’s wives, sisters and daughters, who long for opportunities to gain economic independence, could use those spines to make a living.
Belizean jewellers in Punta Gorda and Placencia, wondering why all the beauty of the lionfish should go to waste, have started to create lionfish jewellery lines. With the visit of Phil Karp in Belize, the timing seemed perfect for Blue Ventures and ReefCI to join forces and arrange a lionfish jewellery-making workshop in Sarteneja – Belize’s largest fishing community. Palovi Bezaer, a jewellery maker from Punta Gorda, taught the participants a few tricks, finding cheap material (including recycled soft drink cans), and a couple of hours, all the women were creating amazing pieces of artwork. It is incredible how creative and skilled these women are and, when their own husbands are encouraging them to find new ways to sustain their families together, well it seems like this just is the perfect project!