Members of the Louisiana Council of Underwater Dive Clubs (LCUDC) including members of the Hell Divers Spearfishing Club have partnered with scientists from the University of New Orleans, the University of Southern Mississippi, and NOAA to conduct very important research on fishes on the Louisiana coast. As a result of these efforts by our divers, several new and important discoveries have been made concerning the invasive Lionfish and the economically important Tarpon. This research has been conducted without any public grants or financial support and highlights our continuing commitment to conservation and the preservation of our heritage as Louisiana sports men and women.
Lionfish are an invasive species native to the Indo-Pacific. This invasion apparently originated in south Florida in the 1980’s and has spread across the Atlantic seaboard and into the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. The first Lionfish spotted off of the Louisiana coast was in 2010, since then there has been a population explosion and Lionfish are now common on every dive in the region. The damage that Lionfish can inflict on an ecosystem is not fully understood in the Gulf of Mexico but in other invaded regions, native species have decreased in numbers by more than 70%. We have been collecting specimens for the last three years. We have collected over 150 Lionfish and have helped to document their westward spread across the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, our collections have documented the voracious appetites of the invaders, their rapid reproduction, rapid growth, and the greater than normal size they attain in northern Gulf waters. Our work continues and we are now assisting with evaluation of the effects of parasitism on growth and spread.
Tarpon are an economically important species to our coastal communities. Yet for the last 50 years they have been disappearing from the Louisiana coast costing jobs that have been here for generations. Businesses that catered to the fishery have disappeared and whole communities have been damaged. We have been fortunate to have been able to contribute to a new understanding of the species and its life history on coastal Louisiana. We have collected approximately 14 adult Tarpon over the past 3 years and more than 15 juveniles. Our efforts have helped to document for the first time that Tarpon spawn on the Louisiana coast and not just in south Florida. We have documented for the first time large concentrations of adult Tarpon at offshore oil production platforms during the winter. Most recently we have helped to show that young of the year Tarpon mature in near-shore Louisiana coastal waters and are thus able to survive periodic low winter temperatures in coastal marshes. We are now continuing to assist in efforts to determine where the Louisiana Tarpon are going and what is happening to them. Whether it is the loss of coastal nursery habitat or continued loss to catch and release fishery predation is unknown. Some States still condone the wholesale killing of Tarpon by selling large numbers of kill tags and allowing the intentional feeding of Tarpon to sharks. The continued efforts of sports divers and spear-fishers will continue to contribute to our knowledge of this species and the preservation of the fishery.