GCFI's 2013 Lionfish Session: A Tale In Tweets

The Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute had its 66th annual meeting in Corpus Christi, Texas earlier this month, with an entire session dedicated to "Lionfish biology, control and management." I (and others!) tweeted along with the hashtags #lionfish2013 and #GCFI, recapped below. Enjoy!


  1. First on the podium was Pat Tester with her talk "Invasive lionfish and ciguatera fish poisoning in the Gulf and Caribbean: what do we really know?"
  2. As the keynote speaker, Tester kicked off the session explaining the ciguatoxin problem: without fancy equipment and expensive tests, you can't tell it's there, and the poison is incredibly stable. If lionfish are ciguatoxic, they aren't safe to eat—but are they? 
  3. To start, Tester and the NOAA ciguatera team sought out the source: Gambierdiscus spp., the dinoflagellates (algae-like cells) that produce ciguatoxin. Through genetic research, scientists have found that there are many more species of Gambierdiscus than previously thought, and the one we thought was in the Caribbean, isn't. But now, sampling allows us to find out what species are where and when to better map risk of poisoning.
  4. Ultimately, we may even use such data to figure out the real question when it comes to these small toxin producers: 
  5. But mapping the algae isn't the whole story. High numbers of Gambierdiscus might mean fish are more likely to be toxic, but there are still some basic questions that need to be asked. In the Caribbean, there are more than 400 species that can have high enough levels of ciguatoxin to be considered unsafe to eat—that's a lot of species of fish! 
  6. The answers to those questions are what scientists like Pat Tester are currently working on. In the meantime, Tester suggests we encourage better reporting of poisonings, compile local fishermen's knowledge about hot spots and safer zones, and institute monitoring programs. But, at least on the lionfish front, it's good to point out...
  7. At least that's a good sign!
  8. Then, it was my turn to get on stage (yikes!). My talk was titled "Expression profile of venom proteins in Pterois volitans: implications for ciguatoxin detection".
  9. Everyone knows that lionfish are venomous. At first glance, lionfish venom and ciguatoxin might seem completely different—the latter is a small lipid, while the former is a cocktail largely made up of proteins and peptides. But, when you look at the effects of each on the cellular level, it becomes hard to tell them apart. My research looks at whether these innate proteins in lionfish might be throwing off ciguatera tests. Preliminary results? Maybe!
  10. The next two talks looked at ciguatera risk at the local level: Bernard Castillo II ("Preliminary results: screening of ciguatera toxins found in Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans) in St. Criox, US Virgin Islands") & Nicholas Diaz ("Lionfish ciguatoxicity risk assessment in the French Antilles").
  11. Lionfish were first detected in the US Virgin Islands in 2008, but in 2012 and 2013, Castillo and his crew removed thousands. Castillo subsampled from those fish from different sides of the island of St. Croix, and did find positive lionfish—but not many.
  12. Perhaps most interesting was that there were strong differences between locations. The same results were found by Diaz in the French Antilles. Lionfish from Saint Barthélemy tested over 50% positive, with many above FDA guidelines.
  13. But that wasn't the case everywhere—areas like Guadalupe were completely ciguatoxin-free. This patchiness isn't meaningless, but until we have a better understanding of what controls Gambierdiscus abundance or fish toxicity, assessing risk of poisoning is fraught with difficulties.