While lionfish are strikingly beautiful creatures with their distinctive stripes and spines, they are also an eco-disaster for the Caribbean and its dive industry.
Native to the Indo-Pacific region, it’s believed that an aquarium owner released only eight captive lionfish off the coast of Florida in 1985. They breed with great success and are now established across the Caribbean Sea as well as along the coast from North Carolina to South America, including the Gulf of Mexico.
The problem with lionfish is that they are voracious predators that devour small and juvenile fish and crustaceans in large quantities, as well as compete with native species for space and other food. They start reproducing at less than one year old and can lay up to 30,000 eggs every four days. All of this, plus the fact they have no known predators, except human beings, means they can wipe out approximately 80% of a reef extremely quickly, giving rise to a major problem in Cayman waters and to its dive industry.
In order to combat the lionfish crisis, the Cayman community is doing its bit by supporting a lionfish culling programme. While residents of the Cayman Islands can apply for a licence to spear lionfish, visitors don’t need to feel left out. More and more dive operators are offering holiday makers the opportunity to take a lionfish culling course. Participants need to be certified divers before taking the half day course which costs US$100 and includes a guided dive. Equipment rental is an additional cost. Once the course is completed divers can act as spotters or borrow a spear to cull lionfish on accompanied dives. For more information contact Ambassador Divers, Divetech and Ocean Frontiers.
Ambassador Divers offers a PADI certification for culling lion fish in the Cayman Islands. The PADI “Cayman Islands Lionfish Culler” certification is recognized by the DoE and can stand as a replacement for the DoE culling course. The certification is completed in one day and includes a short classroom session with two spearing dives overseen by a PADI certified instructor.
Divetech organize lionfish culls from their boats and offer free spots for those using air tanks. In addition to their culls, Divetech also offer the DoE lionfish culling course which includes a shore dive where participants are trained in using DoE spears and sanctioned containment devices to safely remove the fish from the reef.
Ocean Frontiers offer a Monday afternoons one tank dive cull, US$99 per person, excluding dive gear rental. You don’t need a lionfish licence to take part in this cull; you can borrow a spear and hunt lionfish under the guidance of an instructor. Boarding time is 1.30pm, returning at 4pm.
A surprising fact is that lionfish is delicious. A white fish, they are mild and flaky when cooked. If you don’t want to catch them yourself, they appear on the menu at Eagle Rays Bar & Grill in the East End, Guy Harvey’s in George Town and Vivo at Lighthouse Point. This is one reef fish we can eat with a clean conscience!