Lionfish Program

What is an invasive species and why are they a problem?

An invasive species is a non-indigenous organism that adversely affects natural habitats and bioregions. Invasive introductions often result from careless human activity whether intentional or accidental, the results of which are likely to cause economic, environmental and/or ecological harm. While all species compete to survive, invasive species appear to have specific traits or combinations of specific traits that allow them to out-compete native species. Sometimes they simply have the ability to grow and reproduce more rapidly than native species; other times it’s more complex, involving a multiplex of traits and interactions.

Common invasive species traits include: Fast growth rates, rapid/frequent reproduction, high dispersal ability, phenotypic plasticity (the ability to alter one’s growth form to suit current conditions), tolerance of a wide range of environmental conditions (generalist), and the ability to live off of a wide range of food types (generalist).

Invasive species often coexist with native species for an extended time, and gradually the superior competitive ability of an invasive species becomes apparent as its population grows larger and denser and it adapts to its new location. (Note: Because the introduction of invasives is not a naturally occurring process, it does not fall under the umbrella of natural selection or survival of the fittest). With the introduction of a species into an ecosystem that can multiply and spread faster than the native species, the balance is changed and the resources that would have been used by the native species are now utilized by an invader. This impacts the ecosystem and changes its composition of organisms and their use of available resources.

Economic costs from invasive species can occur through loss of recreational and tourism revenues. This is a particularly the case with the invasive Pterois volitans (lionfish) on Roatan where so much revenue is dependent on the tourism industry. When economic costs of invasions are calculated as production loss and management costs, they are low because they do not consider environmental damage; if monetary values were assigned to the extinction of species, loss in biodiversity, and loss of ecosystem services, costs from impacts of invasive species would drastically increase.

The Roatan Marine Park Invasive Lionfish Control Program

In an effort to reduce the destructive impact of the invasive Pterois volitans (lionfish) on the coral reef ecosystem of Roatan, the Roatan Marine Park has employed a proactive stance, directly engaging the community in controlling the proliferation of this species. The RMP Invasive Lionfish Control Program focuses on the dissemination of information through educational workshops that cover topics such as; lionfish ecology, potential impacts of lionfish infestations both environmentally and economically, first-aid treatment, and goals of the program immediate and future.

To increase the success of lionfish cullings, the Marine Park requested and received permission from DIGIPESCA (the governing agency for fisheries in Honduras) to distribute spears within the community to be used exclusively on lionfish to aid in controlling the population. DIGIPESCA delegated authority to the Marine Park to develop the program and regulate and enforce the agreed upon rules of the program as discussed between the two agencies. Together, with the help of participants in this program, the RMP is hopeful it can manageably control the population of lionfish within the marine reserve and thus reduce their destructive impacts on Roatans’ reef habitat.

Acquire your lionfish license

Starting in March we will be introducing our new lionfish guidelines. This new program will consist heavily on proper spear usage and spatial awareness, and an agreement on prudent spearing ethics.

Our lionfish program consists of signing a MOA (memorandum of agreement) stating that the participants will abide by all lionfish regulations and if caught breaking any, agree that the seizure of the spear and license will be accepted. After signing our MOA and our standard liability release, participants will receive a brief talk on lionfish, along with a booklet on lionfish published by the RMP.

The in-water part of the workshop consists of participants showing the evaluator that they can handle a spear with an adequate level of skill. While either snorkeling or diving, participants must shoot targets (coconuts) which represent lionfish which have either been hidden in the reef or within the course set up in Half Moon Bay. Spear competency must be displayed, along with spatial awareness. Divers must not touch anything while spearing and can not miss the targets and hit the surrounding reef. If they do so, they will be warned once and then failed if they do so again.

The Workshop will take approximately an hour depending on participant numbers. Workshops will be held in Half Moon Bay, however, if Resorts or dive shops have the numbers, we will travel to do workshops on specialized days.


All licensed lionfish hunters will have to have their own spear. Each spear will be issued to ONE hunter and will be entered into the database under that individuals name and number.

If you have your own spear already, bring it. If not, one will be issued to you.

If you have your own spear and DO NOT pass our workshop we will be responsible for holding on to your spear until you pass. You may participate in as many workshops as it takes at no additional cost.

What about snorkelers?

Snorkelers can get licenses and will have to sign all agreements stated above. They will be issued a different format of license and if they wish upgrade to a diving one will have to go through the workshop again using scuba gear.

What about vacationers?

Vacationers will have to do the same as everyone else but when they return their spear they’ll receive a rebate and the spear will be recycled into our local fisherman education program.

What does it cost :

From ZERO to HERO will be $60.

If you have your own spear it will only cost $20 but you must bring your spear with you for the course for engraving and entrance into the database.

If you are here on vacation, the cost will be $60 and when you return your spear at the end of your stay you will receive a $10 rebate.  Your spear will then be recycled into our local fisherman education program.

When does it expire?

Your license is property of The Roatan Marine Park and is issued on behalf of DIGEPESCA. As long as we don’t have a breach of prudent lionfish practices the licenses will be valid for 2 years. Renewal fee will be $5

Did you know…?

  • Lionfish were accidentally released into the Atlantic from Biscayne Bay Florida in 1992 following hurricane Andrew. Genetic analysis reveals that lionfish in the Caribbean have likely all originated from this population
  • Lionfish in their native waters reproduce once per year, but with the consistent warm temperatures of the Caribbean they reproduce monthly
  • Gelatinous egg masses float to the surface and planktonic larvae drift for up to 40 days before settling, allowing for wide-range distribution by ocean winds and currents
  • Venomous dorsal, ventral, and anal spines prevent local predator fish from consuming lionfish
  • Specialized swim bladder muscles allow lionfish to orient themselves horizontally, vertically, and upside down in the water
  • Lionfish exhibit opportunistic feeding behaviors and in addition to fish, feed on a variety of invertebrates and crustaceans
  • Lionfish are suction feeders that consume their prey whole and are capable of eating creatures up to half their own body size
  • Lionfish population densities in non-native waters have been found to be as much as 15 times higher than in their native waters
  • Studies of lionfish on experimental reefs in the Bahamas have shown a reduction in the recruitment of coral reef fishes by nearly 80 percent