Out of the water, onto the plate

The pernicious red lionfish is being hunted down by Cayman restaurants for its delicious flavour.

The Culinary Cullers event begins on Thursday, 27 January, and runs also on Friday and Saturday, 28 and 29 January, with the intent to catch as many lionfish as possible in preparation for their being served on Saturday, 29 January at the Taste of Cayman.

Registration is $5 per person at Ambassador Divers Shop at Comfort Suites between 8am and 5pm on Thursday, 27 January. Teams will catch lionfish to win prizes from categories including most lionfish caught, most overall gross weight, biggest fish and smallest fish. Weigh-ins will be at Camana Bay at 6pm on Thursday and Friday, 27 and 28 January, and from midday to 1.30pm on Saturday, 29 January, explained Jason Washington of Ambassador Divers.

“The threat could be very severe as the lionfish competes directly with our local species (some endangered) for food. They have no natural predators here, and a female can have up to 30,000 eggs every four days. Lionfish have a voracious appetite and consume juvenile fish in great quantity. Looking at some of the photographs from Bahamas, lionfish have completely taken over reef areas and other fish species are gone.”

Versatile ingredient

Chef Thomas Tennant of Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink, who will be cooking up the treat at the Taste of Cayman festival, said the fish is a versatile ingredient.

“It has a nice, thin skin, and just like snapper, you can do almost anything with it; you can pan fry it, you can pan sear it, you can take the skin off, you can do tempura. Ceviche is good – it’s milder than snapper, something like tilapia, but you can have the skin. Escoviche is very nice.

“I first tasted it in late December; we did it in the oven with salt, pepper and olive oil and the flesh was lovely and moist, but the skin was crispy. It’s exciting to have a new fish to work with and one that’s going to help the environment; it’s an invasive species that needs to be taken out of our waters. We’re trying to work toward making Cayman a little more sustainable and raising awareness of this fish is a way to send out that message,” said the chef.

Teams must have at least one certified lionfish culler with proof of certification. Teams must have a minimum of two participants and a maximum of eight. All participants must register at the start of the roundup or will not be eligible for prizes. Official lionfish nets may be purchased from Ambassador Divers for CI $50. Only persons licensed by the Cayman Islands Government or CITA may use spears and only a certified lionfish culler should handle the lionfish.

Please call Ambassador Divers on 916-1064 for more information, or for more information on certification, contact the Department of the Environment on 949-8469 or email [email protected]