Volume 72

The Reef Sweeper: A Remotely Operated Vehicle for Harvesting Invasive Lionfish Without Bycatch at Depths to 300 M

Eddy, C; D. Martin; E. Martin; N. Martin; G. Hunter; T. Warren; J. Pitt
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Date: November, 2019

Pages: 279-280

Event: Proceedings of the Seventy-Two Annual Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute

City: Punta Cana

Country: Dominican Republic


Lionfish in the western Atlantic Ocean pose a threat to marine ecosystems across their invaded range. To mitigate this threat, managers have focused on programs that encourage volunteer cullers to spear lionfish for consumption and, in some jurisdictions, speared lionfish may be sold. There have also been efforts to commercialize lionfish harvest, both in association with existing commercial trap fisheries and using dedicated traps designed to catch lionfish with minimal bycatch. However, these approaches are limited by the depths and/or habitats in which they can operate, and may not be allowed in Marine Protected Areas because of the bycatch risk. Atlantic Lionshare, a Bermuda-based company, has developed a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) designed specifically to harvest lionfish. The custom-built Reef Sweeper ROV utilizes a retractable spear to capture individual lionfish and then contain them within a cage until it returns to the surface. Real-time camera feeds and lasers guide the operator firing the spear, and station-keeping software helps the vessel and ROV maintain position. The Reef Sweeper team removed more than 1,000 lionfish from deep Bermuda reefs over the past year. Operating at an average depth of 60 m with an average capture rate of 54%, capture success was correlated with the total number of lionfish initially present at a site, and averaged 71% when 20 or more lionfish were present. This ROV complements other lionfish removal efforts as it can operate for extended periods at depths down to 300 m, and makes harvesting lionfish on a commercial scale, with no by-catch, feasible. Now in Florida waters, collaborating with the Fish and Wildlife Commission, the Reef Sweeper is removing invasive lionfish from vulnerable deepwater habitats below 46 m, while supplying markets with quality fish for consumption.

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