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You should hunt the invasive lionfish, because, (juvenile) reef fish need your help, and Coral reefs all over the world are in danger.

Using spears to hunt underwater was once frowned on by many localities and even illegal in many. Divers were on both side of the issue of hunting, and often heated debates would occur.

Lionfish_invasive_species
Hunt the invasive lionfish on your next dive trip and help make a difference.

The invasion of the lionfish (in the Caribbean) has seen a shift in viewpoints.

Environmental groups once strongly oppose to the use of spears are now sponsoring derbies to kill as many Lionfishes as possible. In the past, we have published some blogs on the topic of lionfish and the devastation they are doing to the reefs all over the world.

An article we published two years ago, 10 facts about the invasive Lionfish in Belize, gives a great overview of the topic. However, the situation is much worse than it was two years ago.

A quick reminder:

The Lionfish is an invasive species in the western hemisphere. It has no natural predators, and it is quickly becoming a plague threatening the coral reefs and ecosystems it invaded. The Lionfish eats juvenile reef fish, and it does not stop when it is full.

The Lionfish can eat up to 6% of its body weight, and their stomachs can expand over 30 times! Consider they are with many, and you can imagine the number of (juvenile) reef fish is sharply declining in certain parts of the world.

What happens when there are no more (Juvenile) reef fish?

When you take out all the reef fish from a healthy reef, whether it is because of the Lionfish or overfishing the reef will die, simple as that.

The fish keep the reef clean and healthy by eating the algue. When they are gone, the algue will take over and will bury the coral reef underneath a thick sheet of brown muck. When the reef dies, other fish will migrate, and local communities will lose an important food and income source.

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Photo Credit: MyFWCmedia

We can only guess what happens next

People who live from these reefs will take desperate measures to feed their children and themselves. From here it is a small step to dynamite “fishing”, illegal poaching of wildlife and even illegal logging of forests.

The case of the Glass Goby is a clear example.

The Glass Goby, like most other gobies, are small and found on coral reefs across the Caribbean down to South America and up the Atlantic coast to Bermuda. They are the dominate species of Gobies along coral reef drop-offs.

The Caribbean has lost 59% of its coral between 1970 and 2011, but the Goby population remained stable. The International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Programme commonly called "the Red List” had the Glass Goby listed as “least concern”.

However, the last two years thing have changed, and the “Red List” now shows the Glass Goby as “Vulnerable”, skipping the “Near Threaten” category. Skipping an entire category on the red list in only two years is a shock. The new threat is the lionfish. The report cited a chilling study, “An overall 65% decline in (lionfish) prey biomass was directly observed over a period of two years in the Bahamas.”

Lionfish can eat species up to 15cm, about seven inches, which is larger than the normal size of its mouth and stomach which will expand as needed. The Lionfish will eat 85% of the surrounding prey that will fit in its mouth in only five weeks. While many species such as grouper and snapper are only vulnerable to the lionfish until they get too big to eat, a full-size Goby is only 3 inches, just a snack for the lionfish.

Also read: Infographic About the Spread Of The Venomous Lionfish

Invasive species are not new

Invasive species on both land and in the waters are not new. The Zebra mussel in the US Great Lakes as well as rivers around it are taking over the domestic mussels and causing damage to power plants. The European green crab is found in the Americas and Australia and impacting shellfish, and many more.

However, the Lionfish is different.

In its home waters of the Asian Pacific region, they are commonly seen but not in large numbers. They do not sit on the top of the food chain, and they are seen as a threat by small species of reef fish. A female lionfish may lay over a million eggs a year, but few survive to reach breeding age. In the Caribbean and Atlantic, that is not the case. Adults are not threatened by anything, and even the young have a much higher survival rate.

The Belize article we published commented the first lionfish in northern Belize was in December 2008 by the following November they had spread to the south. Now they are the dominant species on most of the reefs, not only in Belize but the entire Caribbean. As their numbers grow, other species are disappearing.

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

Spearing is the most effective control.

There are reefs in different parts of the Caribbean that are relatively free from Lionfish and the native species are in strong numbers. On these reefs, the lionfish are frequently hunted by scuba divers.

Physically removing the lionfish – one by one – is so far the only effective means to control the expansion of these invaders. The lionfish does not school, is sedentary and often found under ledges or in crevices, so commercial fishing methods do not work. They are also quite difficult to kill.

Add a Lionfish hunt to your next dive

Hunting Lionfish is growing in popularity with many dive centers offering classes and organized dives. Environmental groups and government agencies are organizing derbies with rewards and lionfish dinners. The recent Florida state mini lobster season allowed an extra lobster to be taken if ten lionfish were also taken.

Choose your weapon

The Hawaii sling with a three prong spear is the one most often recommended for lionfish. In some localities, it is the only style allowed. The sling propels the spear by the use of a stretchable rubber tubing, using the same principal as a slingshot. T

he range is relatively short reducing the danger to other divers and marine life. As the lionfish are slow movers, except to take some prey, the hunter can bring the spear close to the target.

Lionfish_spear

Photo Credit: MyFWCmedia

The three prong spearhead is useful for a few different reasons. The three prongs helps to immobilize the lionfish until it dies. A single tip could allow the fish to work its way up the spear and get close enough to embed a spine in your hand.

In the other direction, the fish might set itself free. The individual prongs are small enough as to not overly damage the meat. Some lionfish hunters use a kill rod to ensure the fish is dead. This is a simple rod with a sharp point that is driven into the lionfish head to kill it instantly.

The lionfish is venomous, not poisonous.

While most people will use the terms reciprocally, they are different. The spines of the lionfish will inject a powerful venom into its victim. Once the spines and venom sacks are removed from the fish the meat is untainted.

Even with the fish dead the spines can still be triggered. A number of different manufacturers have designed catch bags specifically for theses fish to reduce the possibility of contacting a spine. A popular "container" is the Zookeeper from REEF, and a popular bag is The Deep Water Lionfish Bag from SafeSpear.

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The Zookeeper keeps you save from the venomous spines of the Lionfish

Photo Credit: MyFWCmedia

Cut your vacation expenses - Eat your catch

Most often dive centers doing hunts will cook your lionfish for free. A common practice is for the divers to pool the catch and have a cook out. Another practice is for the dive center to buy the fish from you which they either use in their restaurant or sell to one nearby.

The lionfish can be used in any dish that snapper or grouper is being used for. Lionfish can also be used to make a tasty ceviche.

Also read: Lionfish Sunday - Dive and Eat with Friends in Belize

Another action that would be beneficial is to help create demand in restaurants. In some areas of the Caribbean, this has happened naturally. As the snapper and grouper populations are being reduced by the lionfish, the numbers caught are declining.

This leads to higher prices in the market and therefore in the restaurants. As the industrial demand for the fish increases, the number of divers hunting the fish will increase, and the reefs will be protected at the same time.

The final word on the topic: “Eat ’em to beat ’em.”

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

What are your thoughts about hunting Lionfish in invaded water? Let us know in the comments below

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

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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