Invasive species in the Mediterranean: Can Cyprus eat the problem?

Fishers in Cyprus are catching invasive fish from the Indian Ocean and Red Sea in place of calamari, sardines, and other traditional staples of beachside tavernas. Around 800 exotic species of marine life have entered the Mediterranean by the Suez Canal, posing acute challenges for the Cypriot fishing industry.

The exotic fish, drawn into the Mediterranean by warmer waters caused by global climate change, have disrupted the local fishing trade and are displacing the usual catches.

Why We Wrote This

Invasive fish species from the Red Sea threaten the Mediterranean. But scientists, fishers, and government officials are finding ways to mitigate their impact – if not turn them into dinner.

But scientists, fishers, and government officials have come up with ways to respond to the invaders. Bounties have been placed on the silver-cheeked toadfish, which are poisonous and tear up fishing nets. And fishers have turned the Pacific red lionfish into a profit-making catch.

How they adapt can offer lessons for the rest of the Mediterranean as the alien fish spread out into the rest of the sea, as they are expected to do.

“If we can keep track of the newcomers, if we detect them here, then other countries will have time to prepare for their arrival and adopt mitigating measures,” says Demetris Kletou of the Marine and Environmental Research Lab in Cyprus.

Ayia Napa, Cyprus

Blue and white fishing boats cluster in a busy shelter in Cyprus, their decks covered in ropes, baskets, and fishing nets. Fishers in sun-bleached caps sluice down the decks as cats forage for scraps in the shade – a typical Mediterranean scene.

What is much less typical is the catch these boats are pulling up from the ocean depths.

Cypriot fishers are snagging fish from the Indian Ocean and Red Sea in place of calamari, sardines, and other traditional staples of beachside tavernas. Around 800 exotic species of marine life, from fish to urchins, have entered the Mediterranean by the Suez Canal, posing acute challenges for the Cypriot fishing industry.

Why We Wrote This

Invasive fish species from the Red Sea threaten the Mediterranean. But scientists, fishers, and government officials are finding ways to mitigate their impact – if not turn them into dinner.

The exotic fish, drawn into the Mediterranean by warmer waters caused by global climate change, have disrupted the local fishing trade. Some of the new species are poisonous. Others damage fishers’ equipment. And they all are displacing the usual catches.

“Some fishermen are now reporting that their catches be make up of consistently mostly alien fish, or already exclusively alien fish,” says Nikolas Michailidis, from the Cyprus department of fisheries.

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