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Annual lionfish tournament helping to save marine species

Cancun, Q.R. – From the months of November to February, local fishermen set out to catch the invasive lionfish along the Riviera Maya in an attempt to help control the population.

Waters from Cancun to Tulum are open game for fishermen who take to the sea to participate in the monthly contest set up by the town of Puerto Morelos. Each month, the town offers a prize for the largest lionfish caught. Last year, the strategy to help control the fish resulted in 4.5 tons being caught.

Francisco Lopez Reyes, director of Municipal Tourism, says that “the fishing is done through the Fisheries Cooperative of Puerto Morelos” and caught fish are distributed throughout local restaurants, with about 20 percent being exported to Canada and the United States.

He says with the amount of lionfish caught in 2014, they prevented thousands of them from reaching the reef at Puerto Morelos and consuming other local marine life, thwarting damage. The lionfish are carnivores that feed on small crustaceans and fish, including the young of important commercial fish species such as snapper and grouper.

Lionfish are out-breeding, out-competing and out-living native fish stocks and other marine species. According to National Ocean Service, the invasive species are capable of causing extinctions of native plants and animals, reducing biodiversity, competing with native organisms for limited resources and altering habitats.

Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific, but are now established along the southeast coast of the U.S., the Caribbean and parts of the Gulf of Mexico. Since lionfish are not native to these waters, they have very few predators.

Countries such as Japan and China are willing to pay up to $10 per kilogram of lionfish, but to date, no fixed agreements have been made.

The local fishing program began last year as a way to control the invasive fish.

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