The Aquatic Invader: Marine Management Figuring Fishermen, Fisheries, and Lionfish in The Bahamas

Peer Reviewed


The lionfish is an enigmatic, beautiful, and invasive marine species in The Bahamas, where the reef ecology is construed as vulnerable while fishermen and invasive fish are seen as primary threats. This article considers fisheries anthropology through recent attempts to incorporate the lionfish into the Bahamian fishery as a commercial fish species, and it explains how the mysterious fish has become symbolic of the creativity and design of contemporary fisheries and fisheries management. Starting with the premise that marine management creatively calls fish, fishermen, and fisheries into being as socially charged objects through conservation-oriented studies of fishing and invasion, the article engages with maritime anthropology, social studies of invasive biology, and multispecies ethnography in order to ask what is natural about fisheries and what is naturalized within discourses of fisheries crisis. The point is to determine what key aspects of fisheries, fish, and fishermen have been and are being designed in The Bahamas such that the fishery has become a specific site of oppositional figuration. Through an analysis of the metaphorics of impact, the human-centered focus on negative change stabilizing and grounding reef conservation endeavors, we see how fishermen and lionfish have become malleable cultural figures in The Bahamas, figures that are simultaneously transgressive and hopeful.

Cultural Anthropology has published a number of related essays on nature and the environment, including Eben Kirksey's The Emergence of Multispecies Ethnography (2010), Jake Kosek's Ecologies of Empire: On the New Uses of the Honeybee (2010), Eva Hayward's Fingereyes's: Impressions of Cup Corals (2010), Agustin Fuentes's Naturalcultural Encounters in Bali: Monkeys, Temples, Tourists, and Ethnoprimatology (2010), Anand Pandian's Pastoral Power in the Postcolony: On the Biopolitics of the Criminal Animal in South India (2008), David McDermott Hughes' Third Nature: Making Space and Time in the Great Limpopo Conservation Area (2005), and Celia Lowe's Making the Monkey: How the Togean Macaque Went from “New Form” to “Endemic Species” in Indonesians' Conservation Biology (2004).


Amelia Moore, "Clockwise: Queen Conch for sale, Despined lionfish for sale, Graduate student tracking lionfish in The Bahamas." November 2, 2012.

In this engaging narrative, Amelia Moore uses the invasive and exotic lionfish as a way to study how marine conservation management frames the relationship between people, natural resources, and fisheries in The Bahamas. Moore argues that the continuous rearticiulations of the relationship between humans and nonhumans results in the naturalization of otherwise unnatural ideas of fish and fishermen. This in turn negatively impacts our greater understanding of fisheries and related events and processes as a whole.

The lionfish has played many roles in Bahamian culture and fisheries - from introduced species, to invasive, to targeted commodity, to "totem" animal. Moore looks at the curious role local fisherman have been inserted into within Bahamian fisheries management. Native commercial fish species in The Bahamas have been overfished, as a result one solution to the invasive lionfish problem has been to target the lionfish as a commercial species and to unleash Bahamian fishermen on them, with the hope that they will overfish the species into submission. Moore gives the reader numerous examples from her own experience of illegal overfishing, including being served marine life out of season and even witnessing the fishing of a protected species. Thus, what could essentially be described as an unnatural process becomes naturalized through discourse. In this vein, Moore looks at the role that social scientists have had in marine fisheries management, in the classifications and discussions surrounding nature and the naturalization of what could be seen as unnatural objects, events, and processes.

Drawing on the work of numerous scholars, such as Haraway, Hayden, and Helmreich, Moore transitions from the more traditional field of marine anthropology and contributes to the emerging fields of multispecies and interspecies ethnography. This emerging field examines the frameworks that position both human and nonhuman others, as these framings are responsible for determining and attributing power. The importance of these positions and framings is emphasized by Moore when she highlights malleability of both fishermen and lionfish in The Bahamas.


Amelia Moore, "Amelia Moore." November 2, 2012.

Amelia Moore obtained a B.A. in Environmental Biology from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in Sociocultural Anthropology from the University of California Berkeley. She is a sociocultural anthropologist studying environmental politics and the social worlds of field ecology in the Caribbean with a special focus on The Bahamas.  She is currently a visiting assistant professor with a joint appointment in the Department of Anthropology and the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy at the University of Miami.



Bahamas Biocomplexity Project

Friends of the Environment: Lionfish


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1.    What does Moore mean when she says that the lionfish and fishermen are malleable?    

2.    Why are anthropologists and other social scientists increasingly involved in the management of fisheries and other species?    

3.    In what ways does Moore describe fisheries as dependent on design, not just ecology?    

4.    What is a 'keystone species' or 'flagstone species'? Can you give any other examples other than the ones described in the article?    

5.    Can you think of another example of an invasive species? What times of problems, or solutions, have resulted?


All images courtesy of Amelia Moore

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