"When I first started working on this, I was of the opinion that derbies aren't a great use of resources," he said. "And in the grand scheme of things, derbies are probably not going to reduce lionfish in, for example, the Gulf of Mexico. But I do think that the recent work that paper showed that if focused in areas that are deemed critical habitat, important areas, and if the derbies are done regularly with regular removal, you can suppress lionfish abundances substantially."
They need to be done more frequently than the once-a-year intervals that are common, he said. And they work best on isolated populations of lionfish, so the removals don't simply open up spots for surplus lionfish on an adjacent reef.
"The take-home message for derbies is that yes, they can be effective for reducing lionfish abundance substantially," he said. "The best strategy for lionfish removals is going to be repeated removals in a focused area. The key to doing it is to focus on hotspots where we want to protect a diverse reef community. If you repeatedly remove lionfish off those sites, you can have a long-term impact."
But a long-term effect does not mean eliminating them. Lionfish reach sexual maturity fast. Females can discharge up to 15,000 eggs every four days. They can live comfortably hundreds of feet down, beyond the range of any diver. So no one expects them to be eradicated.
"We don't even use that word any more," Akins said. "That is not on the table. They're just too deep and too widespread."
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