Categories: environment

NOAA Issues Blueprints for Lionfish Traps

by Jeremy Morrison

For the past three years, Dr. Steve Gittings, science coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Sanctuary, has worked to devise an effective lionfish trap. One that made catching the invasive species more feasible and practical. One that could be applied commercially.

Dr. Steve Gittings, with Alex Fogg and Allie Sifrit, examine a day’s catch in Pensacola, July 2016. (photo, SANDSpaper)

That research is the basis for a guide released by NOAA this week (March 1), which details how to construct two traps that have been found to have some success in catching lionfish. Gittings said Wednesday that he hopes the fishing community now takes the design blueprints and continues to improve the traps.

“One reason I put this design out is to let other people do the heavy lifting,” Gittings said Wednesday. “Fishermen — it’s their turn now, to try these in different ways and tell us what works and what doesn’t.”

Fishermen testing out NOAA’s trap designs are advised to take care not to use the traps in prohibited areas, such as federal waters.

“To ensure the traps can be deployed in waters that currently restrict trap usage, including the Gulf of Mexico and U.S. South Atlantic,” the guide suggests, “users are advised to consult with local authorities.”

Currently, lionfish are typically caught by spearfishermen, essentially handpicking fish from the water. A more commercially viable method, such as a trap, would greatly stimulate the market for lionfish and thus help manage the exploding population of the invasive species that threatens fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic.

Gittings, along with colleagues at NOAA, the University of Georgia, the non-profit Lionfish University and Pensacola-based Coast Watch Alliance, has focused on developing a trap that avoids by-catch, or ghost-fishing, and is easy for fishermen to use.

The designs featured in the new guide are referred to respectively as a “dome trap” and a “purse trap.” Each is lightweight and employs fish aggregation devices, or FADs, to concentrate the lionfish.

“They’re pretty lightweight, lightweight enough for a fishermen to throw around,” Gittings said, noting that the team had also worked to make the traps convenient to carry and stack on a boat. “The whole thing goes completely flat — like a pop-up card, a pop-up book for kids.”

A diver swims near a “dome trap.” (photo/NOAA)


A “purse trap” is designed to reduce drag. (photo/NOAA)

Much of the trap testing has been done in the Gulf waters off of Pensacola. Tests thus far have proven encouraging.

“I’m very optimistic about the progress that we’ve made,” said Bryan Clark, of Coast Watch Alliance, noting that the traps will allow for not only a greater haul, but also offer access to deeper-water populations. “It give us a way to catch lionfish that we haven’t had up to this point.”

Bryan and Anna Clark, of Coast Watch Alliance. (photo/ CWA)

Anna Clark, also of Coast Watch Alliance, said addressing the region’s lionfish issue is currently the environmental non-profit’s biggest mission. She’s hopeful that the team’s trap research will lead to a breakthrough of sorts in the fight against the invasive species.

“We’re really happy to be involved,” she said.

Pensacola, where the group is based, has a particularly dense lionfish population. Gittings calls it “the perfect place” for trap research.

“Pensacola’s such a good place to test,” the NOAA scientist said.

Soon, Gittings plans to return to Pensacola to continue testing trap models. By then, he hopes to have heard some feedback from the fishing community as to how the trap designs offered up in NOAA’s guide are working in the field and how the designs might be improved upon.

“It’s at a point where it’s going to be exciting soon,” Gittings said.

To view NOAA’s lionfish trap design guide, click here.

To read more about Dr. Steve Gittings’ work on lionfish traps see, “Researchers Encouraged by Local Lionfish Trap Tests,” and “Building a Better Lionfish Trap.”

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