Save our reefs: Eat a lionfish

New regulations mean lionfish can now go on the menu.

There may finally be a natural
predator in Cayman waters to combat the growing invasion of lionfish – humans.

Divers who catch lionfish can now
keep and eat the fish, according to an amendment in rules governing the capture
of the invasive species.

Up until recently, all lionfish
caught had to be handed over to the Department of Environment, where the DNA of
the fish was taken to determine the breeding patterns and origins of the fish.

But so many of the striped,
venomous but beautiful creatures have been caught, it has become too
time-consuming for the department to continue taking DNA samples or to store the
dead fish, according to Bradley Johnson of the DoE.

“As long as the fish are killed and
as long as people give us the information on the length of the fish and where
it was caught, then people can keep the fish, but it must be killed,” he said.

He added that some divers and snorkelers
who captured the fish had kept and eaten them, despite the regulations that
stipulated that all captured lionfish had to be surrendered.

“We were not getting the
information we needed,” Mr. Johnson said, because people know if they captured
the fish and notified the DoE, they would have to hand it over.

Licensed lionfish cullers must send
to the department, the date and location of the catch, the culler’s name and
dive company, if applicable, and the length in millimetres of the fish.

An advisory from the DoE to cullers
states: “All lionfish captured under this license must be killed – there shall
be no keeping, trade, or disposal of any live specimens unless specifically
permitted by the [Marine Conservation] Board.”  

The department has notified via
email the hundreds of divers who are certified to cull the fish of the changes
to the regulations, and has set up a Facebook page, called the DoE Lionfish
Culling Group, that enables people to post where and when they have seen
lionfish, and even recipes on how to cook them.

Mr. Bradley said that, not
including the lionfish people had failed to hand in to the department, some
1,000 lionfish had been captured in the three Islands since the first lionfish was
caught in Little Cayman in February 2008.

All lionfish captured must still be
killed and cannot be kept be in fish tanks as pets, under the regulations.
Those who do not want to eat the fish can still hand them over to the
Department of Environment.

Later this year, Dr. Mark Hixon of
Oregon State University, who has run a lab documenting sightings of lionfish in
the Bahamas for several years, and two of his students, will spend three months
at the Little Cayman Research Centre to study the influx of lionfish in the
Cayman Islands.

The lionfish is considered one of
the most potentially disastrous invasions in marine history because of the
explosion of its population and its aggressive behaviour. Lionfish can
drastically reduce the number of coral reef fish in a short period of time.

They are the only marine creatures
that can be taken during a dive in Cayman, due to a special exemption in the
Marine Conservation Law introduced to help slow down the invasion.

Lionfish are not native to
Caribbean waters, but are believed to have been introduced as a result of
aquaria smashed in hurricanes in Florida and tank releases. They originate in
the Indo-Pacific oceanic region and have no local natural predators.

The Department of Environment has
been running courses to train divers and snorkelers how to capture the
lionfish, after which the participants are given lionfish culling certification
cards.

Anthony Pizzarello, head chef at
the Little Cayman Beach Resort, said there were still not enough lionfish being
caught to enable him to put the fish on the resort’s menu, but he has cooked
them in the past when he worked in the Pacific.

“We’d need to catch a lot of them
to feed the guests here,” he said.

The chef advised people who want to
cook the spiny fish to be careful of the spines and fins while they’re cutting
them off because they may still contain some venom.

“Cut off the spines and scale the
fish if you don’t want to eat the skin, although the skin tastes pretty good.
They’re very delicate and can be overcooked easily. You can pan fry them with a
little butter and almonds.

“They’re low in fat and cook very
quickly,” he said, adding that the lionfish meat was similar to flounder or
sole.

Meanwhile, Little Cayman Beach
Resort has appreciative recipients for the captured lionfish in the tame
groupers that hang around on dive sites there.

“The groupers are
loving it,” said Mr. Pizzarello.

LOCALlionfishSTORY

Under amended marine conservation rules, lionfish caught in Cayman waters can now end up on your dinner plate.
Kristi Feierstein
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1 COMMENT

  1. Nice piece Norma.
    Your next article should be titled ‘Killed Grilled.
    Licensed or unlicensed people should be allowed to remove these invaders. Actually, all the people of Cayman should be given free reign to cull: it’ll end up either as good food or fertilizer (yeah, it makes for good fertilzer); drop a couple of dozen in the bottom of the hole before you plant your next rosebush.
    Norma, in your next article please give us advice and instructions on how to safely cull these critters and prepare them; safety first, good eats later!
    Lastly, this focus on lionfish may redirect and reduce the poaching of endangered species (grouper, lobster, conch) as a source of food.
    Good Hunting to All.

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