We all remember the movie Finding Nemo and we all feel sorry for wildlife that is illegally and unsustainably harvested. Yesterday we set out from Port-au-Prince to look for frogs and ended up all the way down in Anse-a-Pitre, a small fishing village in the border with the Dominican Republic. We had an excellent time teaching our assistants how to look for frogs and catch frogs without harming them. We also taught the assistants new fieldwork techniques.
Today we headed back to Thiotte to find a better place to stay and continue our search for frogs. As we headed out of Anse-a Pitre, I couldn’t help but notice how the locals dry their fish
Fishing nets are set out to dry after a day out at the sea
before selling it in the market. Anse-a-Pitre is a very poor village and not many people have running water, much less electricity. People are force to use age-old techniques in their daily chores, especially when it comes to how to preserve their meats. Fishermen head out to work at around 4 a.m. and come back from the sea around mid- morning with their catch. They bring in whatever they can get in their fishing nets and nothing gets wasted. Large, small and tiny fish are brought in, cleaned and salted and then set out to dry on fence posts and barbed wire in the hot mid-day sun before offering it in the markets later that day or the next day. This by itself is a curious process and is a stark difference from what we are used to seeing at the supermarket.
Fish gutted and cleaned are set out to dry on fence posts before being sold in the markets.
You might wonder by now where is the frog - fish connection in this blog entry. Honestly there is not much of a connection other than chance. This is a story about the invasive Pacific lionfish. It was more striking to me that this was the most commonly caught fish by the fishermen of Anse-a-Pitre. Nobody knows exactly when or how, but at some point a colony of escaped lionfish from Florida managed to find its way into the warm waters of the Caribbean. Some people suggest that a colony of these strikingly beautiful fish was established on purpose. Other suggests that some fish might have escaped from a failed aquaculture enterprise. Maybe an unsuspected ‘good citizen’ decided to give their pet fish a shot at freedom and set them loose on the Atlantic Ocean after watching Finding Nemo; an unlikely case. Either way, the fish got established quickly in south Florida and sooner than later the worst fears and predictions came true. The Pacific lionfish is now an established resident of all major Caribbean reef ecosystems.
This is terrible news! Just like most invasive species, the Pacific lionfish came to stay. It is a highly aggressive and venomous fish that grows to a decent size and has few enemies in its native range. In the Caribbean it has no enemies and quickly gained territory over other fishes that can’t compete or fight with this veritable porcupine of the ocean. The lionfish has an array of powerful quills laced with venom at its tips and is a very aggressive and voracious fish. Predators either learn quickly to avoid hunting this aggressive porcupine or die from the wounds inflicted by the quills and the venom. As it turns out, the fish now dominates many marine ecosystems.
I was very surprised to learn that this fish managed to reach Southeast Haiti, an area that is so far from fish hobbyist and the scuba diving industry (the most likely culprits for this introduction). I wonder how this fish will place additional pressure on the native fish communities.
On top of all of the ecological problems that affect Haiti’s biodiversity such as overfishing pollution, deforestation and coral bleaching, there’s this. A fish from somewhere else somehow managed to reach Haitian waters and is competing with the local fishes.