Cayman’s lionfish population was reduced by more than 500, after divers captured the invasive fish at the CULL#12 Summer Showdown tournament over the weekend.
The Cayman United Lionfish League competition, hosted at Rackams, involved 60 registered cullers on 13 teams, including two free diving and 11 scuba teams.
The competition culled 579 lionfish, weighing than 250 pounds, and raised more than $8,000 to help school a 6-year-old girl, as part of a Cayman’s ARK (Acts of Random Kindness) initiative.
The money will help provide a helper for the family while the girl’s mother receives chemotherapy for breast cancer and the remainder will pay half of the child’s annual tuition at Hope Academy. The school donated a scholarship to cover the rest of the $6,500 fee.
The winners of the “most fish” prizes each brought in 130 lionfish, with Ambassador Divers winning the scuba diving category, and Green Water taking first place of the two free diving teams.
CULL’s Mark Orr said the group aims to host a tournament every two months to maximize the amount of lionfish removed from the reefs and lagoons around Cayman.
“We know lionfish are here to stay, but our goal is to help keep their numbers in check so that when nature balances things out and lionfish are recognized as both prey and predator by other fish species, there will still be enough of those other fish on our reefs to repopulate them quickly,” Mr. Orr said.
“As well as culling lionfish, we also try to spread the word about how tasty lionfish are to raise the demand for them as table fare and so that more restaurants will put it on the menu.”
The Lionfish are cooked after the competition and handed out as free samples during the weigh-in. The host restaurant also keeps a portion of the fish to sell on the menu.
The driving force behind the fundraiser, Hope Academy graduate Pierre Lesieur, said he had started out with the goal of collecting funds for one year of the child’s schooling at the academy.
“I wanted to raise as much as possible to keep her in school for as long as possible,” Mr. Lesieur said.
“At first I was quite surprised at how much people were really helping, there was so much support from everyone.”