Cayman’s war on lionfish continues in earnest this weekend with a lionfish culling competition on Saturday and Sunday, followed by “The Great Lionfish Cook-Off” at The Island at Camana Bay on Sunday.
“These types of events are a great venue to not only remove a large amount of lionfish from our waters and reefs, but also to educate the public on how good they are to eat and allow restaurants to show off their talents in preparing lionfish,” said Mark Orr of the Department of Environment.
“This increases the demand for locally caught lionfish, and thus more lionfish are taken from the reefs.”
The lionfish culling tournament is organized by Cayman United Lionfish League (CULL). Cullers will have a chance to win cash prizes for most lionfish, most overall weight, biggest and smallest lionfish: $500 for first place, $200 for second place, and $100 for third place in each category. Culling teams must have a minimum of two people and a maximum of eight, with at least one person licensed as a culler with the Department of Environment.
Lionfish are an invasive and venomous species and can spawn 30,000 eggs every four days. Originally native to Indo-Pacific waters, they have now established themselves along the U.S. East Coast and throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.
The fish have a detrimental effect on marine life, consuming or driving out vast numbers of juvenile fish that are instrumental in maintaining the health of the reefs, and therefore endangering the reefs, as well as Cayman’s diving and tourism industries.
Due to a lack of known natural predators, culls have become a necessary method of reducing lionfish numbers. Field studies in Little Cayman have shown that these are having a beneficial effect. Restaurants are also aiding in the reduction of their numbers by including the versatile fish on their menus, and cook-offs such as “The Great Lionfish Cook Off” increase the numbers consumed.
Participants in the competition must weigh their catches at stations on The Island between 2 and 6 p.m. on Saturday, and between 4 and 6 p.m. on Sunday. There will be no cleaning station at the weigh-ins, and all lionfish must be de-spined before being brought to the stations.
The cook-off runs from 5 to 8 p.m. on Sunday, with local restaurants competing, and attendees voting on the best dishes.
Food sample tickets are available through CULL or Ambassador Divers. Each $3 ticket buys one food sample. Food sample tickets can also be bought in bulk before the event, six for $15. The winners of the culling tournament will be announced at the cook-off at 7 p.m.
Registration remains open on Friday and early Saturday at Ambassador Divers. Registration fee is $10 per person. For more information, contact Mark Orr on 916-4271.