Culling Cayman’s ‘littlest lionfish’


Bigger isn’t always better.  

A tiny lionfish, measuring just 26 millimeters, was one of the winners at a recent competition, equaling the record for the smallest caught in the Cayman Islands. 

Scuba divers and free divers, using nets and spears, caught 703 lionfish during the Oct. 12-13 tournament, CULL #9 Blue Water Roundup. 

This tiny specimen barely contributed to the net-weight of nearly 500 pounds culled during the tournament. But in terms of the environmental impact, it may have been the catch of the day. 

Jason Washington, one of the tournament organizers, said all of CULL’s tournaments included a prize for the smallest fish. 

“We want people to catch the small ones because that way you stop the damage before it takes place. If we wait till they are a decent size, they will have eaten thousands of juvenile reef fish by the time we catch them.” 

CULL’s competitions are designed to encourage divers to get in the water and catch as many lionfish as possible. 

Lionfish are an invasive species with no natural predators in the Atlantic. They feast voraciously on tiny juveniles and could devastate local fish populations if their population expansion continues unchecked. 

One of the lionfish caught in the weekend competition had another fish stuck in its mouth when it was speared. 

“It is not uncommon for us to see that, said Mr. Washington, from Ambassador Divers. “They are such gluttonous feeders. The fish they are eating are the ones that take care of the reef. Without those fish, it would just be a pile of rocks out there.” 

The tournament was sponsored by RBC Wealth Management, enabling organizers to offer cash prizes for the first time. “Initiatives like this are important to the future of our immediate environment,” Andrew McCartney of RBC, said, “and we are pleased to lend our support to the community at large.” 

Lionfish choking

Lionfish are voracious eaters. This one was literally caught in the act.


  1. Research has proven that going for the tiny ones is as important as going after the massive lionfish specimens.

    The key problem in getting these little ones is that, after we cullers shifted toward the spear-based culling paradigm, we found and still find it burdensome to carry nets as backup. And these little ones are impossible to get with a spear.

    I don’t carry nets anymore, either. But in my BCD pocket I carry a big plastic bag that, if needed, I can deploy underwater. With the spear, I make these tiny ones get into the plastic bag, and close it in time. Being so small, the pointy spines are not a big issue, and the bag, though annoying, can be easily managed underwater.

    I would love to see if anybody is using other alternative methods to get the smallest specimens.

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