Ocean frontiers has culled 10,000 lionfish
Dive operator Ocean Frontiers has cleared more than 10,000 lionfish from East End dive sites in the past three years.
The dive shop, which organizes cull safaris allowing customers to aid in the fight against the invasive predator, reached the milestone earlier this month.
Steve Broadbelt, owner of the East End dive shop, said regular culling trips were helping to keep lionfish numbers under control at the main dive sites in the area. The dive shop also offers weekly one-dive culls where visitors can act as spotters for licensed cullers.
But a more aggressive approach is being used on parts of the reef seldom visited by scuba divers.
Mr. Broadbelt said, “We’ve also developed what we call ‘parachute drop culling’ where we split the residents into three teams and drop them off along the reef. This enables us to cull over a mile of linear reef at a time and has resulted in many top scores.
“This method can only be used in the right conditions with advanced divers that we are comfortable with. I would class it as an extreme dive, but worth the results.”
Lionfish culling has become something of a competitive sport in East End, with cullers aiming to beat record totals on dives.
Matt Russell, a dive-master at Ocean Frontiers, currently holds the record of 56 fish speared on a two-tank dive.
He said, “We’re pretty competitive. Steve (Broadbelt) gets it and understands that we need to keep the pressure on. The hunt was wickedly fun at first, but now I feel an obligation to get as many people involved as I can.”
Mr. Broadbelt said part of the strategy was to get people interested in culling and aware of the environmental imperative to get the invasive predators off the reefs.
“We make the culling trips fun and competitive by encouraging a little rivalry and team spirit,” he said. “Most divers don’t need motivation. They care about the environment and there is always this desire to do a good thing and help with the problem. Some of them just love it and can’t get enough.”
With the help of its customers, Ocean Frontiers has caught 10,202 lionfish in the past three years. Many of them have been sold to East End chef Ron Hargrave who puts them on the menu at Tukka restaurant and Eagle Rays bar and grill.
Mr. Broadbelt says the “eat them to beat them” philosophy is making a difference. But the lionfish problem is so overwhelming that more concerted action may be required.
“Yes, culling is making a difference, but it is like a leaking boat,” he said. “Every time we bail out some water, more just keeps coming back in. We can keep bailing and bailing, but we have to find a better long term solution.”