It’s been said, ‘build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.’
One scientist hopes his design for a lionfish trap will help commercial fishermen join as allies in the fight against the invasive lionfish by making it easier to catch them in the deep water environment.
Chief Scientist for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Sanctuary System, Dr. Steve Gittings first tested his lionfish trap design in the green coastal waters off Pensacola, Florida.
Earlier this month, he traveled from the states to Little Cayman, where he had the chance to give his lionfish trap another test run, this time in Cayman’s crystal clear waters. Our cameras rolled as the prototype, nicknamed the ‘purse trap’ or ‘taco trap’ was deployed in a sand patch on Little Cayman’s southwest side.
“No electronics, just a line and some metal dropped to the bottom,” said Dr. Gittings.
Dr. Gittings watched as his lionfish trap prototype descended through the water column, making a soft landing in a sand 50-some feet below the water’s surface.
“We did three drops of the trap and three recoveries, and in every case, it dropped through the water at the speed we thought it would, which is fast, it hit the bottom, it opened up perfectly,” said Dr. Gittings.
The design is relatively simple. Dr. Gittings told Cayman 27 a trap like his can be built for around $100 using commonly found parts.
“In developing all these different prototypes, I have finally gotten to the point where we have got a trap that operates exactly the way I hoped it would, and now the next step is, does it attract the fish the way we hoped it will in deep water,” said Dr. Gittings.
“[Lionfish] just like structure, so anything you can present to them underwater, they will orient to it and hang out inside the frame of the trap,” Dr. Gittings explained to Lionfish University’s Jim Hart, minutes before he boarded the Department of Environment vessel M/V Sea Keeper to deploy the trap.
Dr. Gittings said early testing in Pensacola showed lionfish were attracted to the trap’s artificial structure. He said the next step for the trap is deep water field trials.
“What we are hoping it was a number of commercial fisherman who have applied for permits to use these traps will get these permits in the next couple of months, and be allowed to test these in the field under conditions that they would fish under, which is deep water,” said Dr. Gittings.
He told Cayman 27 while recent reports of declining lionfish populations are encouraging, he said these traps will help control populations outside of cullers’ reach.
“They can control the abundance of lionfish in deep water the same way shallow water spearfishermen do it, and they can also – just on the side – make money for the fisherman who spend the time to go get these fish out of the deeper water, so there is money to be made in conservation finally,” said Dr. Gittings.
The trap weighs about 40 pounds. Dr. Gittings told Cayman 27 the folding design reduces drag and makes it relatively easy to hoist from the water. He said his trap was designed to minimise potential negative knock-on effects like by-catch, ghost fishing, entanglement, and bottom impact.