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These days It is a best a practice to hunt Lionfish in the waters they invaded, but be careful you do not get hurt doing it. Lionfish are assumed to have entered the Atlantic and Caribbean areas by means of the aquarium trade.

There are different stories going around about how the Lionfish manage to invade. One of them is that during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 an aquarium filled with Lionfish was smashed, and somehow a handful of these invasive predators made it to Florida's Biscayne Bay.

Now, 25 years later they are found all over the Atlantic, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico which are all areas they don't belong too and they are killing many native species which is a real threat to these ecosystems.

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Photo Credit: PacificKlaus

Three points you should always remember when you hunt Lionfish:

  • They do not belong there
  • Their sting is very painful
  • They are great to eat

What dangers are involved when you go hunting Lionfish?

The main protection that the Lionfish has for itself are venomous spines. In total there are 18 spines that can envenomate (a fancy word that means to inject by a sting or bite) the venom into your body.

The dorsal fin along the top of the fish has 13 of these spines and they stand out. The big colorful pelvic fin on each side of the body has another one hidden among the color and the anal fin has the final three. The placement means it is very difficult to grasp a Lionfish without coming into contact with a spine.

A Lionfish does not have to be alive to sting you and to make you cry

When you make contact with the tip of a spine, the tip is pushed back a little into a sheath. When a puncture is made, the tip is pushed out.

This set of motions acts as a pump to move the venom out of the spine and into the wound. Divers have been stung when a caught lionfish thrashes around and escapes a spear. Also, a mesh catch bag with a spine hanging out could also touch a diver's leg and sting. So whatever you do, be careful.

Make sure you have the right equipment to reduce the risk of getting hurt

Three pieces of gear you need to hunt Lionfish:

  • A spear
  • A special bag
  • Protective gloves
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Image source

Spear guns are generally not used to hunt Lionfish for obvious reasons

Lionfish are often not that big and do not move far. You can get can get very close to your target if you stay calm an practice good buoyancy skills, so the advantages of a spear gun are not needed in this case.

Additionally, at such close range the power of a spear gun can create problems that can lead to injuries or damages coral. Many jurisdictions do not even allow spear fishing but they do allow hunting for Lionfish using lower powered methods.

Pole spears and Hawaiian slings are the preferred weapons to hunt Lionfish

Both of these operate in a similar manner. The spear is put under tension by pulling back a rubber band. A pole spear has the rubber band attached to both the pole and spear, this allows the spear to travel only the length of the band.

The Hawaii sling is similar to a slingshot; the spear travels away from the sling. Both styles require close-in hits and will not travel far if the target is missed. The tips of the spears are mostly three prong barbed tips. These help insure a faster kill and firmly holds the fish if it thrashes around.

Also read: 10 facts You Need to Know About this Juvenile Eating Invasive Predator

Your typical spearfishing game bag is inadequate for Lionfish

The mesh or thin material will not protect you from the evil spines. The most used and perhaps safest containment system is the Zookeeper Lionfish Containment Unit.

It looks like a piece of PVC pipe used in plumbing. The device is, in fact, a 7.25 inch PVC pipe with a drain cap at one end. They vary in length with the smallest being 19 inches long and should be able to fit about 14 pounds of lion fish.

The largest at 38 inches long will hold up to 56 pounds of fish even has an attached lift bag to avoid buoyancy issues. The open end of the tube has a flexible funnel with slits a few inches inside the tube.

When you caught a Lionfish you push the spear with the fish on it into the tube and passes the funnel that opens to allow the spear and fish to pass through and closes behind it. When you pull out the spear, the invasive predator is trapped inside by the small opening in the funnel, and it is pulled free from the spear.

While they are simple to use, you should practice on land before trying in the water. Spearing an old stuffed toy and getting it into the unit will be good practice.

Lionfish_spine

If you prefer to use a game bag instead you should use a Armored bag with one side being mesh and the other a protected layer. Although it will be more difficult to remove the Lionfish from the spear into the bag and the protected side must face you, some hunter prefer this above the Zookeeper.

You should not forget to wear gloves to protect your hands While some retailers sell them a Lionfish gloves, the most common gloves used are designed for medical use to protect against needles.

Planning a Lionfish hunt trip? Then you should download the ultimate scuba dive checklist just like 5000+ other divers already so you will not forget to bring anything.

How you can become a successful and safe Lionfish hunter?

The local dive site will determine most of the factors about the hunt. The most important thing to remember though is to be observant. Lionfish will stay close to the coral formations and will hide in small crevices. Make your moves slow and deliberate. If you lose sight of one, do not worry just move on and come back a little later if possible. Lionfish do not change locations often.

Also, you might have one drift into you. At times, a Lionfish may extend its fins and hover flowing with a small current. When you spear one, keep your attention on it until it is safely stowed away. Do not start looking for the next one until the one you have is secured. This is one of the times that divers are most often stung. As they are putting the fish away, it brushes the arm holding the container or the bag.

Regardless of how careful you may be, there is alway a chance you will get stung. If it does happen, you may be in for the most painful experience of your life.

People that have been stung all say the same thing, It was so painful I thought I was going to die. How painful or how long before it becomes bearable and how fast it spreads will vary. Most people will feel the pain immediately.

However, it will take several minutes before it becomes a safety issue. If you are hunting for Lionfish the first aid procedure outlined in this article should be a part of your dive plan and the items needed should alway part of your first aid kit.

What to do when you got stung by a Lionfish?

  • Upon being stung, notify your dive buddy with a pre-planned hand signal and abort your dive.

  • Ensure that your return to the surface is safe. Signs of any DCI will be disguised by the reaction of the sting.

  • At first the sting should have the pain level of a bee sting. Your dive buddy should stay with you and watch you for signs of shock. While it is rare, it is a real possibility that a diver will go into anaphylactic shock.

  • Upon reaching the surface and safely out of the water, examine the wound of any remaining portions of the spine that may have broken off in the wound, remove any if possible.

  • Flush the wound with fresh water. Then wipe with an antiseptic towelette and control bleeding if necessary. The venom of a Lionfish is protein-based and will break down in the presence of heat. If possible, the affected part of the body should be immersed in hot water.

  • The water should be as hot as possible without scalding or burning the skin. It is a good practice to bring a thermos of hot water in case of an injury. If the point of injection cannot be immersed, then the area should be covered with cloth that has been soaked in hot water and re-soaked when it starts to cool.

  • The treatment should last at least 30 minutes, longer if still highly painful or spread of the swelling increases. If untreated or slowly treated a high level of pain can last as long as 4 hours and still be painful after 12 hours.

  • Seek medical treatment. Even if the first aid stops the spread of the toxin and the pain reduces, it still is best to seek medical treatment. The spine may have broken off deeper that you can see. There is also the possibility of infection, or the poison may have killed some underlining tissue. Both of these conditions can be come serious if not treated.

Have you been on a Lionfish hunt before? Let us know in the comments below

Feel free to contact us. We have multiple partners who offer dive packages and Lionfish hunt derbies.

Planning a Lionfish hunt trip? Then you should download the ultimate scuba dive checklist just like 5000+ other divers already so you will not forget to bring anything.

Article written by Rutger Thole who is an avid scuba diver and loves to travel, dive and write about scuba diving. Based in Amsterdam he runs bookyourdive.com and at least twice a year he plans a dive trip of the beaten track.

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