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Warming waters see a concerning increase in lionfish off Lebanon's sea

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By Sinead Barry  with Reuters
Warming waters see a concerning increase in lionfish off Lebanon's sea
Copyright  REUTERS/Ali Hashisho   -  

Warming waters have seen a concerning increase in lionfish off the coast of Lebanon. The venomous predator fish have drastically depleted the population of native species in the Mediterranean.

"It's like genocide," says fisherman Atallah Siblini. “Now it is like 30 to 50 of them in one place. They started to scare away the other fish including sea bass which we depend on and they eat everything.”

Experts cite the expansion of the Suez canal as well as warming ocean temperatures as among the reasons for the fish's expansion.

The lionfish was first sighted in the Mediterranean Sea in 1991 but was not seen again until 2012. This year has seen "plague-like proportions" of the species across the Eastern Mediterranean says marine biologist Jason Hall-Spencer.

Spawning every four days, the lionfish can lay up to two million eggs every year, threatening the sea's delicate coral reefs.

“Many times, we go out to sea and come back empty handed. We don’t even make enough to cover the price of diesel,” said another fisherman.

Lebanon's waters have long been strained as a result of pollution and overfishing. The invasion of the lionfish has only added to the pressures of the Mediterranean's over-burdened ecosystem.

A temporary solution

Although threatening, the lionfish are allegedly one of the tastiest kinds of fish. Environmentalist Jina Talj is running a campaign to encourage people to eat more lionfish.

"Luckily for us, it is also one of the tastiest types of fish,” says Talj, who is asking people to make an effort to order lionfish at restaurants and markets. So far, it has primarily been fishermen who have taken on the task but Talj hopes more people will join the campaign soon.

In the long-term, marine biologists like Hall-Spencer wish for a saltwater lock to be constructed in the Suez canal. This lock is an area of water with very high concentrations of salt - which would impede fish from travelling between seas.

Until then, however, Hall-Spencer recommends catching the fish for food and celebrating " the fact that they are good to eat”.