Detection and removal efficiency of invasive lionfish in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
Mitigating the negative impacts of invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans/miles complex) is a top priority for marine reef fisheries management, with human removals considered the most viable approach to population control. Control efforts via diver spearfishing removals have annually removed tens of thousands of lionfish throughout their invasive range, but the effectiveness of removal efforts to remove 100% or achieve target lionfish densities in a given reef system has not been fully evaluated. Accounting for detection and removal efficacy is necessary for developing and evaluating lionfish management targets, as population- and community-level effects of lionfish removals may be diminished by undetected lionfish remaining in the system. This study quantified lionfish detection, catchability, and removal efficiency to evaluate the effectiveness of lionfish surveys and removal efforts on northern Gulf of Mexico (nGOM) artificial and natural reefs. Detection was assessed during crepuscular and midday time periods via diver and remotely operated vehicle (ROV) video surveys, with covariates for time of day and survey methodology assessed using generalized linear mixed models. Catchability and removal efficiency were estimated via depletion models based on serial removals via spearfishing on 6 artificial reefs and 9 natural reefs. A priori, we had expected lionfish detection to be higher during crepuscular periods given lionfish in the Caribbean and in their native range have been shown to forage more actively away from reefs then. However, we found lionfish detection was not significantly different between midday and crepuscular periods. Survey methodology affected detection, with 24% fewer lionfish being detected via ROV surveys versus diver surveys at artificial reefs and 72% fewer lionfish detected via ROV surveys at natural reefs. Therefore, density estimates on nGOM natural reefs, which constitute of >99% of the region's habitat, may be higher than previously reported and problematic for lionfish management. Mean catchability for spearfishing lionfish was 0.88 on artificial reefs and 0.69 on natural reefs standardized for area. Mean removal efficiency for the first removal event was 87% on artificial reefs and 67% on natural reefs, higher than removal efficiency computed for Caribbean reefs (47%). Incomplete detection and <100% removal efficiency, in concert with density-dependent processes, may explain recent findings that sustained lionfish removal efforts had no discernible positive impacts on native reef fish communities.