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ECOMAR Launches 2010 Belize Lionfish Project

Belize Lionfish Project

The increasing numbers of invasive lionfish in the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage Site and associated reef systems will likely cause additional negative impacts on an already stressed ecosystem affected by overfishing, coral bleaching and ocean acidification. After the first confirmed sighting of a lionfish in Belize in December 2008, ECOMAR began working with the Belize Fisheries Department to raise awareness on the problems that are anticipated as a result of the increasing number of lionfish in the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve Ecosystem.

These actions formed the development of the “Belize Lionfish Project,” an outreach program that is being coordinate by ECOMAR in association with the Belize Fisheries Department, fishing cooperatives, tours guide associations and other NGOs in Belize which are members of the Belize National Coral Reef Monitoring Network.

The Belize Lionfish Project has recently received funding by the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) through the Community Management of Protected Areas for Conservation (COMPACT), and Mr. Jeffrey Joseph is the Lionfish Project Coordinator who will be coordinating the activities for the Belize Lionfish Project in 2010.

The goal of the Belize Lionfish Project will be to raise awareness on this invasive fish, educate key stakeholders on how they can become involved in protecting their future livelihood, determine the source of lionfish in Belize through scientific studies, and garner renewed enthusiasm and interest in protecting the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System and the associated marine areas. Key activities of the project will include:

* Working with fishing cooperatives, tour guide associations and other stakeholders who livelihood could be impacted by the invasive lionfish;

* Conducting 12 outreach workshops in coastal communities which will include a presentation on their life history and hands on training on how to safely clean and cook lionfish for consumption;

* Prepare the Belize National Lionfish Response Plan in association with partners and guided by the Belize Fisheries Department;

* Promotion of monthly tournaments for the capture of lionfish to manage their populations; and

* Production of an advertising campaign that will educate the general public and key stakeholders on lionfish.

Belize-Bahamas Fishermen Exchange

In February 2010 ECOMAR also received a grant from the Gulf & Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) through the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Caribbean Environment Program (CEP), and the Caribbean Protected Areas Management Network and Forum (CaMPAM) for the Belize-Bahamas Fishermen Exchange: Lionfish Management Training Workshop whereby fishermen from Belize were able to travel to the Bahamas for a workshop on lionfish handling and preparation techniques.

Participants in the exchange program included representatives from the Fisheries Department, Northern Fishermen Producers Cooperative, National Fishermen Producers Cooperative, Placencia Fishermen Producers Cooperative, the Rio Grande Fishermen Producers Cooperative, Coral Reef Alliance and ECOMAR. The participants in this program will assist in the 12 outreach workshops that will be held through Belize and can also share the lessons learned with their counterparts on a day to day basis. For further details on the Fishermen Exchange Program please contact ECOMAR or any of the participants listed below:

* Isaias Majil, Marine Protected Areas Coordinator, Fisheries Department
* Guadalupe V. Rosado, ECOMAR Representative & CORAL Reef Alliance Belize Field Manager
* Eugenio Perez, Member, National Fishermen’s Producers Cooperative
* Ovel Leonardo, Chairman, Northern Fishermen’s Producers Cooperative
* Gareth Longsworth, Member, Placencia Fishermen’s Producers Cooperative
* Armando Ramirez, Vice Chairman, Rio Grande Fishermen’s Producers Cooperative

Monthly Lionfish Tournaments

In an effort to maintain the unique marine diversity of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve Ecosystem and associated reef ecosystems which sustain the Belizean citizens that rely on it for their livelihood, reducing the population of the invasive lionfish is a must. Monthly lionfish tournaments will be an integral part of the 2010 Belize Lionfish Program.

The monthly tournaments will be open to fishermen and tour guides who capture and deliver the most lionfish each month commencing with April 2010 and ending November 2010 and culminating in a grand prize on December 15, 2010. Prizes and collection points throughout the country are presently being established with partners throughout the country and will be announced next week. Please note we will need the following information for each lionfish submitted: person who captured, date of capture, and location of capture.

This Lionfish Tournament program was initiated on a trial basis with Belize City fishermen from December 2009 through March 2010 and more than 400 lionfish were submitted. The Belize Lionfish Project is pleased to announce the winners of the ongoing ‘Wanted: Lionfish Dead or Alive’ eradication campaign for the four months:

Jesus Pena – 61 Lionfish, Glover’s Reef, Dec. 09
Jesus Pena -70 Lionfish, Glover’s Reef, Jan. 10
Denton Bernanr – 1000 Lionfish, Turneffe, Feb. 10
Jorge Cawich – 36 Lionfish, Turneffe, Mar. 10

Safe Handling of Lionfish & First Aid Treatment

Lionfish are venomous with toxins in their dorsal and ventral (top and bottom) fins where needle like spines are located. If you puncture your skin with one of these sharp spines, severe pain lasting up to 24 hours may result. If you observe a lionfish and attempt capture, try to avoid direct contact with the fish. While special gloves are made that resist punctures by needles, other gloves can be used to minimize puncture. If a lionfish is successfully captured place the lionfish in a bucket or other receptacle and store in freezer or dry in the sun until you can turn it in to one of the collection points. Once the fish has been stored the venom will not cause pain.

Should you be stuck by a venomous spine, check for any obvious pieces of spine left in the wound and remove. Pre-treatment includes applying heat to the wound to prevent the venom from spreading. Hot water, as hot as one can withstand (not more than 100-110 degrees F), should be applied directly to the wound for 15 to 20 minutes or an instant heat pack. Repeat if pain returns. Lionfish venom contains proteins that are denatured by heat, thus preventing them from spreading in the bloodstream. Since envenomation is painful, over-the counter painkillers should also be taken for additional pain relief. Consult with your physician if necessary.

Lionfish Hotline

Please call the Belize Lionfish Project Hotline at 223-3022 to report sightings or to just to find out more about the program. You can also email the Belize Lionfish Project Coordinator Mr. Jeffrey Joseph at or Mr. Isaias Majil, Protected Areas Manager for the Belize Fisheries Department at Please also visit ECOMAR’s website for details on the project at

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