Legislators on Thursday voted in support of a proposal to pay lionfish cullers a bounty of $5 per fish in a bid to tackle the ongoing problem of the invasive species in the Cayman Islands.
The lawmakers agreed with North Side MLA Ezzard Miller’s private member’s motion to use funds from the little used Environmental Protection Fund, which currently holds more than $43 million to pay the bounties.
Mr. Miller said the cost could be recouped by the subsequent sale of the captured lionfish to restaurants.
Environment minister Mark Scotland, who supported the motion, pointed out that because of the recently adopted Framework for Fiscal Responsibility that legislators signed into law earlier this month, taking money from the environmental fund may require permission from the UK government.
Mr. Miller described the invasion of the lionfish, which have voracious appetites for juvenile reef fish, as a “very serious threat to the marine ecosystem and the environment in the Cayman Islands” and he called on the government to get more involved in dealing with the issue.
Lionfish were first spotted in Little Cayman in 2007 and have since become widespread in waters throughout all three islands.
With the support of the Department of Environment, most of the efforts to cull lionfish in local waters are done by the private sector. Dive operators, Foster’s Food Fair IGA and restaurants hosting culling tournaments and sponsoring diving trips to sites throughout Cayman in which recreational and professional divers kill the fish, using specially licensed spears.
Lionfish is the only marine life that can be legally caught and killed by licensed divers in marine parks, following an amendment to the Marine Conservation Law in 2008.
Mr. Miller suggested that individuals who supplement their incomes or earn their incomes exclusively by catching conch and lobster, either in or out of season, could be trained by the Department of Environment to catch lionfish. This would not only have the effect of reducing the numbers of lionfish, but would benefit the lobster and conch populations, the North Side representative said.
Lionfish reach maturity within one year and can release up to 30,000 eggs every four to six days. The species, which originated in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, have no natural predators, so human intervention is currently the only way to remove the creatures from the reefs.
For more on this story, read Monday’s Caymanian Compass.