Lionfish hunters on the rise

Cayman now has more than certified 200 lionfish hunters.

Eighteen of those hunters took the water on a dedicated lionfish catching expedition with Divetech over the past two weekends and netted six of the beautiful but dangerous red lionfish.

Diver Tom Shropshire

Diver Tom Shropshire captures a lionfish on a recent Divetech dive. Photo: Submitted

‘We caught four on Saturday, so that’s improving,’ said Nancy Easterbrook who runs the dive company.

The Divetech boat and crew took to the water last weekend and the weekend before on their first two hunting trips. On the first dive, on Saturday 5 September, they caught two lionfish.

‘The fish this past weekend have ranged from 8 inches to a 1.5 inch-long baby. We’ve been diving the North Wall primarily to take advantage of the great weather, and will move to the North West Point and west when the winter weather sets in,’ Mrs. Easterbrook said.

She added, ‘Even though we’re not catching hundreds like they are in some other locations, we can be thankful that the population has not grown to this size yet. Culling is the only way of controlling the population so that does not happen.’

Mrs. Easterbrook thanked the guests who took part in the recent Divetech dives. ‘It would not be possible to make a difference without the support and help of the diving community.’

Divetech had a full boat of 18 divers on both trips.

These divers are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to lionfish hunters. According to the Department of Environment’s Bradley Johnson, the department had certified more than 220 divers by the end of July to capture the fish which have a voracious appetite for juvenile fish.

Also by the end of July, the divers had captured and handed over to the DoE 414 lionfish they had caught in Cayman waters.

The Department of Environment takes possession of the fish that are caught and kills them, using a combination of eugenol – or clove oil – alcohol, and sea water.

Lionfish, which are not native to Cayman waters, and used to only be found in the Indian and Pacific oceans, are becoming increasingly common.

DoE staff warn that the lionfish can inflict a poisonous and painful sting and so need to be handled with care.

By the end of July, the department had dealt with 414 lionfish.

Divers who are trained and licensed by the DoE on behalf of the Marine Conservation Board are been given special dispensation to catch the lionfish.

The infestation of lionfish is thought to have begun when six of the fish were accidentally released from an aquarium into Biscayne Bay in Florida during Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Since then, they have been found along the east coast of the United States from Florida to Massachusetts, as well as in Bermuda and throughout the Bahamas and in other Caribbean nations such as Turks and Caicos, Jamaica and Cuba in depths ranging from two to 500 feet.

Lionfish are capable of reproducing from the age of one year, and can lay up to 30,000 eggs each month.