Who We Are...

Over the past several years as Lionfish populations have begun to grow in our waters. This hunt is our local attempt to unite divers to try to understand ways we can combat the dangers these fish represent to the reefs and life around it.  The Lionfish Hunt is a way to bring together divers in understanding that they can help do their part on the reefs they enjoy diving.  In helping to kill and attempt to control the spread of the population, we are also attempting to educate divers on preparation methods of enjoying the fish after it is killed.  So we are not just killing, but also utilizing the fish.

The Problem...

Indo-Pacific lionfish are rapidly invading the waters of the Caribbean and tropical Atlantic. Due to their population explosion and aggressive behavior, lionfish have the potential to become the most disastrous marine invasion in history by drastically reducing the abundance of coral reef fishes and leaving behind a devastated ecosystem. Dr. Mark Hixon and his team from Oregon State University with support from NOAA’s Undersea Research Program (NURP) have embarked on the first studies to measure the severity of the crisis posed by this invasive predator.

The lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific region, have infiltrated their way into the Caribbean. Their introduction is believed to be a result of hurricanes and tank releases during the early 1990’s. They have been spotted along the eastern seaboard spanning as far north as Rhode Island to as far south as Columbia. Protected by venomous spines, lionfish are voracious and effective predators. When hunting, they herd and corner their prey using their pectoral fins, then quickly strike and swallow their prey whole. With few known natural predators, the lionfish poses a major threat to coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean region by decreasing survival of a wide range of native reef animals via both predation and competition. While native grouper may prey on lionfish, they have been overfished and therefore unlikely to significantly reduce the effects of invasive lionfish on coral reef communities.

The Solution...

Hunting the Lionfish and creating a demand will be the best way of trying to keep the population in as much control as we can.  Since there are no government funds available to control the species, teaching divers who are on the reefs weekly about hunting and eating lionfish seems to be the best method for controlling them for the time being.  There is no study that has shown a slow down of them reproducing.  All data shows just the opposite.  So creating the demand for a tasty meal is the next best thing.  

Shooting and Cleaning Lionfish

Lionfish are silent predators that use their camouflage when stalking prey. The most common places they use on a reef for their hunting grounds are in holes or underneath ledges where one would typically find lobsters. On occasion, Lionfish do take residency on top of the reef only if there is a nearby hole to provide a dwelling. In deeper water, they hover next to objects that mimic their camouflage like a piece of corral or a barrel sponge.

There is more than one way to skin a catfish! An arsenal of weapons can be used to capture a Lionfish, such as a small single shaft gun, a Hawaiian sling, and pole spear, but by far the most effective and efficient tool is the small spear gun with a paralyzer tip. These tips are specially crafted with three small tines extending outward. The tines prohibit the fish from moving, which makes it safer for drivers to trim the poisonous spines and avoid accidentally being stung.

After shooting the fish, the best means for trimming the fins and spines is by using a pair of line shears. First, trim the top fins. Start just beyond the eyes and work down towards the tail fin.  Be sure to cut as close to the body as possible. Then, turn the fish over and trim the anal fins. These are located just behind the stomach running to the end of the body and stopping at the tail.  Next, clip the pectoral fins which are located in front of the stomach on each side.  There is only one spine that is venomous on the pectoral fin, but it is better to remove the entire fin to be safe. Another helpful method used when detoxifying the fish is by freezing it. This process is done by using a cooler of ice and adding salt. The combination of the two will lower the freezing point of the ice. Once the fish has chilled in the icy mixture, it will reduce the risk of the toxins releasing from the spines. The easiest way to transport the fish is either by bag or a small stringer.

Finally, dinner is almost ready. To clean the fish, take a sharp knife and rest it behind the decorative fins; from here cut the head off the fish.  Next, turn the fish over on its back and then cut from the anal area up to the top of the fish. Now, remove the organs and discard. At this point, this fish is ready to filet. If need be, to remove the scales take the blade of the knife and scrape off the small scales starting at the tail toward the other end; using a long, swift motion with the knife.

Here is a video showing how to remove the poisonous barbs while underwater.