Scuba divers will take to the water this weekend to catch invasive lionfish as the first Cayman United Lionfish League tournament of 2016 kicks off.

Foster’s Food Fair IGA has given a $20,000 sponsorship to help fund the CULL tournament.
Lionfish are an invasive species in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea and threaten reef ecosystems.

“Being fairly new to our waters, the large predator fish do not see them as prey yet, so their numbers are increasing rapidly,” said Mark Orr from the Department of Environment. “They are also voracious eaters, so they are wiping out the small grazer fish on the reefs. Without the grazers, our reefs become threatened from algae overgrowth which can smother the coral.”

Lionfish are proficient reproducers – one alone can produce 30,000 eggs every four days – making their population hard to manage. Cayman’s best tactic for managing the population has been for scuba divers to catch the lionfish and remove them from the reef.

“The dive industry has been doing a great job culling lionfish on a daily basis around the popular dive sites, but there is a lot of the island that is not reached by the dive industry,” said Mr. Orr. “CULL tournaments are an important part of the efforts to control lionfish because our teams travel to the areas around the island where divers do not go on a regular basis, cleaning out the majority of lionfish in those areas.”

This is the 17th CULL tournament in Cayman. Pre-event registration for diving teams who want to take part will be held on Thursday at Duke’s Seafood and Rib Shack on West Bay Road or at Ocean Frontiers in East End, from 5-8 p.m.

There will be cash prizes for the team that catches the biggest lionfish, the smallest lionfish, the most caught and the biggest overall weight of the catch. Teams can be made up of a minimum of two people and a maximum of eight, and each team must have at least one DoE-licensed lionfish culler.

Foster’s is supporting the CULL tournament as a gold sponsor for the third time. In addition, the Cayman Islands Tourism Association has been supporting the event since 2012.

“Foster’s is very happy to again partner up with CITA and CULL to work towards keeping the lionfish population down on our reefs,” said Foster’s Food Fair Managing Director Woody Foster. “The monies collected from a charge on plastic bags in the stores is being put to good use to assist with funding this and other environmental programs in the community.”

Tiffany Dixon-Ebanks, executive director of the tourism association, said the organization is happy to sponsor the tournaments and the CULL organization generally, and expressed its gratitude to Foster’s for its support.

“Every fish caught for the CULL is analyzed by the Department of Environment, and then sold to local restaurants,” she said. “This makes culling tournaments valuable to our society both scientifically, for data gathering, and socially by providing us with a sustainable local fish to enjoy at restaurants.”

The tournament will be held on Saturday and Sunday. The public is invited to attend the weigh-ins on both nights, from 4-6 p.m. at Duke’s Seafood and Rib Shack on West Bay Road. Free samples of prepared lionfish will be served at the event.