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The Early Days

Excerpts from a TC Palm newspaper article written by Outdoors Writer, Ed Killer in 2010:

Bob Hickerson and fiancee Maria Andreu have developed a lionfish eradication tool that enables divers to spear lionfish and remove them from reefs without handling the venomous invader. The tool is called The Frapper and it is essentially a mini-spear encased in tubing. Divers can actually strap The Frapper to a leg or clip to a buoyancy compensation device leaving the diver hands free to perform other tasks. Hickerson has applied for a patent and plans to make them available for sale soon.

Bob Hickerson, a Vero Beach general contractor and fiancee Maria Andreu, a dive instructor, are avid divers that met six years ago and share a love for the ocean. As self-proclaimed “proactive environmentalists,” the pair enjoys traveling to favorite tropical diving destinations where they often spend their time photographing the colorful and diverse underwater coral reefs.

But several years ago, they began to see first-hand the small, reddish, zebra-striped lionfish showing up on reefs throughout the Caribbean. Their rapid spread from native Pacific waters has been mapped from Brazil to North Carolina. Naturalists fear the lionfish’s voracious appetite for ecologically important smaller reef fish — as many as 50 other species of fish, according to one scientific report. Also problematic is the ease at which the lionfish can rapidly reproduce — a single female can produce 30,000 eggs every four days or about 2 million during its lifetime (actually, each year! Bob).

Excerpts from TC Palm Outdoor Writer, Ed Killer 2010:

A 2003 report by NOAA concluded the eradication of the lionfish from U.S. waters would be “nearly impossible.” So efforts have begun this year (2010)to remove them from reefs in Florida and in the Keys to attempt to manage the population at a local level.

Hickerson, Andreu, Daryl Thomas and Jim McCann were motivated by the need to help control this pest and signed up to compete in the Keys Lionfish Roundup, a series of single-day diving tournaments organized by REEF that pay cash and prizes to dive teams willing to harvest lionfish from sensitive reefs.

In October, Team Frapper won the Middle Keys Roundup out of Marathon and $1,700 when it collected the roundup’s most lionfish — 12. Last week, they took second and third place in the Smallest Lionfish category at the Lower Keys Roundup out of Key West.

Hickerson and Andreu have “embraced” the lionfish epidemic by inventing a tool that helps divers remove the fish without requiring handling of the venomous foot-long spines. The Frapper is a small, four-pronged spear that remains sheathed in a tubular housing until it is deployed. It can be attached to a diver’s leg or gear to leave the diver unencumbered by carrying a speargun, Hawaiian sling or pole spear.

“I got tired of dragging around my 6-foot pole spear just for these lionfish,” Hickerson said. “After six months of research and development, some of it in my pool, we decided to apply for a patent.”

Hickerson said The Frapper is used kind of like a slingshot. It sends the sharp projectile down the tube at the target.

It is designed to be used at close range on small targets, Hickerson said.

“It’s a passive instrument — just strong enough to be used for something like lionfish,” he said. “Because they’re not afraid of humans really you can approach a lionfish as close as 1-2 feet if you move slowly.”

All the lionfish collected by Team Frapper during the roundups were done so using the unique device. Soon he plans to have The Frapper available for sale.

Meet the Team

Actively removing invasive lionfish from the region since 2009

Bob Hickerson

Bob Hickerson

Founder

Committed to mitigating the impact of the invasive lionfish. My kids used to think that I was obsessed with the idea of "lionfish control"... and now, they are sure that I am!

Maria Andreu Hickerson

Maria Andreu Hickerson

Founder

Not just another pretty face.. Maria has been known to kick some serious lionfish butt!

What the Marine Scientists are saying

The spread of lionfish through the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico is unprecedented and remarkably rapid. For example, lionfish blanketed the Caribbean in three short years.

Invasive species like lionfish constitute a type of biological pollution that is armed to invade, threatening the peace of our coastal ecosystems. By consuming and competing with native species, these fishes pose a grave and growing danger. They will continue to proliferate and spread unless they are actively controlled. Lionfish could potentially reconfigure the ecological balance of our coastal ecosystems, attacking the fisheries and tourism industries, as well as the natural balance of nature. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.

Pamela J. SchofieldPh. D. Research Fishery Biologist/USGS

After a recent dive witnessing lionfish on an Atlantic reef:

Narrator: “Fish native to these waters for thousands of years are now being wiped out…”

Philippe Cousteau: “This is BAD NEWS for the health of this ecosystem! BAD NEWS for potentially important fish and the other creatures that live here… that are part of the natural order of this food chain.

Narrator: “With no enemies, their numbers are exploding! From just a handful twenty years ago, there now may be as many as a million lionfish in the Atlantic.

Philippe Cousteau: “…They were everywhere…you know, I was looking for grouper…I was looking for parrot fishes…just keeping my eye out for things that should be here and I didn’t see any of them in the abundance that I saw lionfish…That’s VERY WORRYING!

From the TV Series titled “Oceans Blue” aired August 2010

Eating lionfish is a conservation activity. We are its only known predator in the Atlantic. Through dedicated diver-based removal efforts and consumption of lionfish as a food source, we can control its establishment.

Sean MortonFlorida Keys Marine Sanctuary Superintendent

By working together and focusing our efforts, we have the opportunity to control the impact of lionfish in the Atlantic, Gulf, and Carribbean. Early detection rapid response, outreach and awareness, removal and control strategies, and research to develop novel control efforts are all critical parts of our program.

Lad AkinsDirector of Special Projects (REEF)