This month I took part in a joint mission with UNDP to prepare a project on climate resilient agriculture and biodiversity in Grenada. There are many threats facing the country’s biodiversity including climate change, land degradation, tourism development, urbanization and hurricanes. Invasive species are a particular concern as they decimate local, native flora and fauna. For a small island they are numerous, including Lion fish, African Mona monkey, rats, feral cats and mongoose.
The case of the lionfish is well known across the Caribbean wrecking havoc on local fish populations. Are there innovative ways to deal with the issue for example incentivizing fisherman to catch them and keep their numbers down?
Lionfish and Lobster cook up
Fishermen’s boat in Grenada
Innovations to combat invasive species across the world include dropping poisoned mice from helicopter to kill off the brown tree snake in Guam, and marketing handbags made from canetoad leather. Here in Geneva, the local authorities encourage local fishermen to kill invasive catfish in the lake but do not go so far as offering catch payments.
Can the Caribbean states enact innovative ways to reward communities and local industry to catch lionfish. The Invasive Species Advisory Council (ISAC) has outlined different forms of incentives for invasive species capture including bounty payments to individuals, contractor payments to companies, community harvest by concerned groups, recreational harvests (e.g. to divers and fishermen) and subsidies. In Louisiana for example, the authorities pay fishermen US$5 per nutria (rodent native to South America) tail delivered to collection centres.
According to the Lionfish Guide (a Bible on killing off the species) produced by the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, governments need to ensure as a first step they have a coordinating strategy in place for lionfish eradication.
However, “the physical human removal of lionfish can buy time and protect key resources while new technologies are developed and natural controlling mechanisms emerge”. According to the handbook, one of the most effective methods for engaging the public in lionfish removals includes organized events and removal programs. These include “derbies”, monthly contests, adopt a reef program and diver organized events.
Visiting the tiny port of Sauteurs on the north coast of Grenada, I saw one fisherman on the beach dressed in a wetsuit cleaning his catch of 10 fish – half were lionfish. This was alarming as an indication of the numbers of lionfish on the reef. Apparently they are tasty to eat, although with their venomous spins are tricky to catch. Can Grenada find a way to incentivize its fishermen and diving companies to increase their removal of lionfish and so help conserve the local ecosystem?