Cayman dive operators offer special lionfish culling course

Efforts to keep the invasive lionfish numbers at bay could receive a significant boost as a result of a new scuba diving specialty course now being offered by local dive operators.  

The Department of Environment and Marine Conservation Board have approved CITA watersports members teaching the Invasive Lionfish Tracker Course, a PADI distinctive specialty course. 

The one-day course, which will be available to both residents and visitors, includes general background information on lionfish, including their progressive invasion of the northwestern Atlantic and Caribbean and explains why action needs to be taken to control their population and how to safely and humanely capture and euthanise these fish.  

The course includes two dives for practical application of the information. Nets are used to catch lionfish.  

Although this might seem to contradict all the basic rules recreational divers are taught from the outset – never to harm or harass marine life – and although it might seem to be in contravention of the local Marine Conservation Laws, which prohibit the removal of anything from the sea, whether living or dead while scuba diving, these rules have had to be reviewed in light of the lionfish problem. 

Lionfish were first observed in Cayman waters in February 2008 and since then their population has been increasing steadily. Because they are native to the Indian and Pacific oceans, this invasive species has no natural predators in these seas. They are what are known as gluttonous feeders, eating and eating until they can eat no more, explains James Gibb, research officer with the Department of Environment. They feed indiscriminately, not limiting themselves to any particular species. They also reproduce alarmingly quickly, laying up to 30,000 eggs every four days. These factors combined make them a very serious threat to the balance of the marine ecosystem as they can potentially eliminate a whole section of the food chain. The consequences of leaving the lionfish population unchecked would be huge, not only for local fishermen but also for the dive industry, which is one of the pillars of the Cayman tourism industry. 

The DoE has been running lionfish culling courses since March 2009, issuing attendees with a culling licence on completion. This licence exempts the bearer from certain marine laws. However, the recent approval for CITA members to teach the PADI specialty course means the course will be available to many more people through various dive operators.  

Nancy Easterbrook, owner of Divetech, describes this approval as a significant accomplishment, saying “This gives us the ability to teach it every day. A lot of guests visiting here really want to help out with the lionfish problem.”  

In other parts of the Caribbean the lionfish have had a far more serious impact on the marine ecosystem. “Because we caught it early, we are doing a pretty good job of keeping the lionfish populations down. When you compare us to the Bahamas we are doing well,” says Mr. Gibb, describing how in the Bahamas the reefs are almost devoid of fish other 
than lionfish.  

Any action that can be taken to control their populations is therefore welcomed and in addition to the PADI Lionfish Tracker specialty course, several dive operators also organise lionfish hunts and tournaments and local restaurants are adding lionfish to their menus. The DoE is also investigating other means of controlling their numbers but, at present, removing them from the sea remains the safest and most effective way to keep them 
in check. 


Lionfish pose a serious threat to the marine ecosystem.
Photo: file


  1. The deterioration of our coral and the invasion of the lionfish are both harming our underwater environment. We can’t do much about the coral that I am aware of, but eliminating as many lionfish as possible will certainly help maintain the natural population of our marine life. The lionfish is an alien predator that will eat any reef fish small enough to swallow! I applaud the DoE for their decision to allow guest divers to help control the lionfish in our area.

  2. I’m of the opinion that we (humans) probably cannot contain the lion fish explosion in the Caribbean Atlantic. I’ve seen it 1st hand in the Caymans, Bahamas, Belize, Turks Caicos, etc.

    What if we hunt lion fish leave them for other marine critters to feast on? Perhaps we can help a species (indigenous to the region) adapt faster into a natural predator? It seems like netting lion fish offers no hope of containment a constant dependency on humans. I understand that netting is more humane then the business end of a spear gun or Hawaiian sling. But… a hunt/leave perspective @ least offers the possibility of getting mother nature on our side. And clearly, mother nature is way more efficient @ cleaning up messes then we can ever hope to be :).

    BTW, I’m as environmentally conscious humane as the next guy. I would not characterize myself as a hunter, but I have hunted lion fish.

  3. Eradicate these invasive predators with a vengeance.
    I’ve seen these fish feed, in the Pacific, to the point where they’re bulging and barely able to swim.
    They will strip our reefs if effective and drastic measures are not taken immediatley. Gentle means such as netting and bagging are time consuming; plus many do escape when using these techniques.
    Spear and leave their remains on the reefs for other fish to feed on.
    It may sound harsh now, but 10 years down the road we won’t be lamenting about our empty waters and saying coud’ve, woud’ve, shoud’ve.

  4. If it is one thing humans are good at, it is eradicating species. Remember the Cayman Islands are named after an alligator that was once prolific here.

    This is a great, proactive move on part of the DoE to help protect the reefs. Another thing we can do is support restaurants like Michael’s Genuine in Camana Bay that put Lionfish on their menu and buy from local cullers. By creating a demand, people will create a supply and the effect is obvious as we see far less lionfish here than in Roatan, Bonaire, and other diving hotspots. Encourage your local restaurants to put lionfish on the menu and we can stem this tide.

  5. The cayman was an endemic species, not invasive, and not eradicated with the same intent as is being proposed for the lionfish.
    The DoE has put a good step forward in retarding the spread of the lionfish, but not the elimination of this invader; leave 2 in our water today and there’ll 30,000 in our waters within a few weeks. But let’s not pussy-foot around the issue, get them removed with any means possible!
    I agree, restaurants should serve more lionfish, everyone should eat more…they taste great.
    The only problem is that it’ll 4 dozen to fill a belly.

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