Project Lionfish

Our commitment to reversing reef damage caused by lionfish

Lionfish damage marine food webs and can decimate native fish. They often eat fish that graze algae, leading to overgrowth that can kill corals. Their invasion has economic impacts because they also eat the juveniles of commercially and recreationally targeted species like snapper, groupers, and even spiny lobster. CORE has partnered with the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to develop an innovative solution for catching lionfish that draws on our unique materials capabilities to combat this environmental issue.

What is a Lionfish?

Lionfish are an invasive species*

Recognizable by their distinctive red and white stripes, lionfish feature long and ornate fins and venomous spines. Their attractive appearance makes them popular in the aquarium trade. Although native to Indo-Pacific Asia, lionfish can now be found all over the Atlantic Ocean, from South America to New England.

Coral reef impact

A rise in the Atlantic lionfish population began around the year 2000. In the Atlantic and Caribbean waters, lionfish have no natural predators. As voracious, non-selective hunters, their appetite creates a significant imbalance in the food chain around coral reefs.

Lionfish are most harmful to species that consume algae, which in turn creates unchecked algae growth leading to the destruction of coral reef structures that buffer shorelines against waves, storms and floods. Healthy reefs help prevent loss of life, property damage, and erosion. Without a healthy reef, even normal wave action poses a higher risk of damage to coastal communities.

*Invasive Species Defined by the NOAA:
Invasive species are animals or plants from another region of the world that don’t belong in their new environment. They can be introduced to an area by ship ballast water, accidental release, and most often, by people. Invasive species can lead to the extinction of native plants and animals, destroy biodiversity, and permanently alter habitats.

A New Solution for Catching Lionfish

How We Made It

Lionfish are not very quick.
A clamshell design easily clamps shut. Rebar and fishnet fall to the ocean floor, exposing only the upright lattice.

Lionfish have an instinctual attraction to vertical relief.
Our recyclable thermoplastic lattice is bright and buoyant. The white-colored lattice works to lure lionfish. CORE’s low-pressure injection web process creates a hollow interior ensuring the lattice floats.

Early studies prove the design is effective. Deploying several traps same time is easy thanks to the trap’s efficient design. NOAA has upcoming trials with off-season lobster fishermen. The results will give us an idea of how viable these traps will be for commercial purposes.

CORE Consumer Applications

NOAA Partnership

CORE has partnered with the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to develop an innovative solution for catching lionfish that draws on our unique materials capabilities to combat this environmental issue.

CORE Consumer Applications

CORE Specialized Products

CORE produces over 3 million Structural Web plastic lattice sheets each year. You can find them at your favorite hardware and home improvement store. We capitalized on the usefulness of this product in creating our innovative lionfish traps.

Engineering Support

Through virtual and in-person meetings, member from both CORE and NOAA generated ideas that improved trap design. CORE was able to validate the ideas through a modeling exercise.

Is this trap adding to more plastic in the ocean?

The amount of debris and plastic in the ocean is a well-known problem. Core is well aware of the irony of using plastic to generate a solution to protect North American Reefs. Many issues with marine debris revolve around single-use plastics and poor trash management. The lionfish trap will be a managed, multi-use device, rather than a single-use item. 

Considerations around durability, effectiveness, ease of construction, and cost drove material choice. Trap designs also considered other materials like wood or other biodegradable materials. In the end, plastic lattice allowed the trap to balance each consideration. The team is very optimistic about the current design and its viability. 

Can you eat lionfish?

YES! Like grouper and sea bass, lionfish provide chefs with another flexible catch. Their delicious meat could result in lionfish becoming a more common menu item. Our secondary goal is to make catching lionfish a viable market.

Testing & Certification

Several observational studies had divers accompany the traps to the ocean floor. Lionfish have appeared within minutes of the trap’s arrival. Some traps waited 7 days for diver observation. Those traps were overrun with lionfish surrounding the lattice. These studies showed the ideal soak time to optimize catch is around 2-3 days.

After several design iterations, Core helped build over 200 of the latest style traps. Thanks to Dr. Gittings, all NOAA trap certification procedures are being followed. Stay tuned for updates later this year when traps undergo further validation. First, with off-season lobster fishermen to test for economic viability. Second for bycatch minimization.

Project Lionfish Sponsors

Dr. Steve Gittings

Science Coordinator, NOAA office of National Marine Sanctuaries

“It has been a real benefit to bring Core into our project. They have provided engineering resources that were cost-prohibitive to our organization. Core was also generous in the donation of their lattice. It has allowed us to create more traps for evaluation in upcoming studies.”

James F. Crowley

James Crowley

Board Member, Core Molding Technologies & former board member, National Marine Sanctuaries

“Together, we are helping advance the conservation of native fish. At the same time, we are working to provide the fishing community a new way to harvest lionfish in the future.”

Dave Duvall

CEO, Core Molding Technologies

“After seeing our lattice put to use in such a unique way, this effort had my attention. I knew Core had to get involved. As an avid outdoors enthusiast, I am always looking at what we can do to support our marine environment.”

Additional Lionfish Resources

Lionfish Smithsonian Cover