More than 1,000 lionfish were culled during the latest weekend tournament to rid the reefs of the invasive predator.
The tournament, one of four scheduled this year by the Cayman United Lionfish League, had 15 teams of divers scouring the reef over two days.
The winning team, Troublemaker, pulled in 247 fish, and in addition to most fish, the team won for highest net weight. B Team won the award for the smallest fish. Jason Washington of Ambassador Divers speared the largest – a 307 millimeter (a little over 12 inches) fish caught off Jackson Point.
Mr. Washington, also a member of CULL, said the amount of fish culled over the two-day period shows that lionfish continue to be a problem on Cayman’s reefs.
“That was one of the biggest yields we have had for quite some time,” he said. “It has become less common to get more than 1,000 fish in a tournament.
“There was rough weather this weekend as well, so it was a really good showing to get so many fish.”
He added, “I’m not sure if it is a good sign or a bad sign. It is always good news when we take so many lionfish off the reef, but it shows there are a lot of large fish still out there. We are keeping it at bay, but that doesn’t mean we can relax. We have to keep the pressure on.”
He said Cayman’s mix of culling through tournaments, volunteers and organized dives is seen as a model for other countries to follow.
“We were also one of the first to get lionfish on the menus,” he said. “We’ve been so successful with that, that chefs are now importing from Honduras because they can’t get enough locally.”
Bradley Johnson, a research officer with the Department of Environment, said tournaments are an effective incentive for cullers to search for fish beyond the regular dive spots.
“It really helps to push people to the areas of the reef that don’t get culled on a regular basis,” he said. “We are keeping the numbers down here but there is still recruitment from elsewhere.
“We haven’t seen the full impact of the invasion as yet.”