"Research to Restaurant", Affecting a Sustainable Seafood Resource by Taming Lionfish
Coast Watch Alliance, Inc.
Coast Watch Alliance (CWA) was founded in 2014, with the goal of providing a focus on issues that affect our coastlines and offshore reefs. CWA and the subgroup, Gulf Coast Lionfish Coalition (GCLC), have collaborated to serve the coastline communities of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana with both water quality and lionfish-related efforts. The GCLC was recently merged into CWA, as the two organizations worked on common issues and had some common board members. CWA is a collaboration of divers, recreational anglers, scientists, and business owners working to conserve and protect coastal and marine environments. The organization’s mission is to discover, appreciate, and defend our coastal and marine resources; to exercise and promote the responsible use of our oceans and coastal environments; to educate and enlist humanity to protect, restore and conserve the quality of the natural and human environment; and to use all lawful means to carry out these objectives with our public and business partners.
Recently, the Gulf Coast has experienced an influx of an invasive and venomous fish species, the lionfish. Experience and research demonstrate that lionfish present a clear and imminent threat to reef species and game fish in Florida waters. This invasion can be viewed as an insurmountable problem, or an opportunity. “Research to Restaurant” is a project CWA desires to initiate in order to develop and implement a sustainable seafood fishery to capitalize on this opportunity. CWA is working on a number of strategic and sustainable methodologies to engage local residents, students, businesses, as well as visitors to raise awareness and to help mitigate this invasion. Funds will be used to purchase a van for gear and passenger transport for ecotourists and lionfish exhibits; equipment and gear to outfit the CWA dive boat safely and properly for transport of local volunteer divers to harvest lionfish; travel expenses to attend lionfish summits/conferences; and marketing and promotion events including website design. The website will specifically market ecotourism and dive packages for area visitors.
Complete removal of all the lionfish from the reefs is not a reasonable goal. However, the immediate goal of this project is to bring the necessary focus to the lionfish invasion in order to implement short-term mitigation measures, as well as motivate the development of long-term solutions. Funding this project will allow CWA to increase awareness of the lionfish invasion and its effect on the local economy, develop a successful harvesting and commercialization program, establish an ongoing ecotourism program for divers and non-divers, and engage local students and residents into citizen science participation. “Research to Restaurant” will also bring an appreciation of the culinary value of lionfish which, in turn, will increase the demand for this sustainable seafood choice. All of these project outcomes will result in a positive impact on reef health. Although the majority of the target population does not dive, most benefit from and/or enjoy the Gulf of Mexico and its resources. The development of a commercialization process for lionfish, and ecotourism for lionfish-based research, is imperative to protect and ensure the longevity of our valuable fisheries. Therefore, the hope of CWA is that this project will appeal to residents and visitors, local and visiting divers, commercial fishermen and recreational anglers, seafood consumers, as well as seafood restauranteurs, through their sense of environmental responsibility, their enjoyment of local sustainable seafood, and a desire to bolster tourism trade