The sustained effort to eradicate lionfish from Cayman reefs continued over the weekend, when the Cayman United Lionfish League held its 22nd culling tournament of the invasive species. Twelve teams came out to catch lionfish and make room for other species to flourish.
The Indo-Pacific Red Lionfish has been flourishing on Cayman reefs since 2008. CULL holds its tournaments four times a year, and Foster’s Food Fair provides cash rewards for participants.
Mark Orr, chief conservation officer for the Department of Environment and one of the organizers of the event, said the tournament on Saturday and Sunday was successful.
“We had lots of new teams in this tournament, which we were happy to see. A lot of first-timers,” said Mr. Orr. “We culled 503 lionfish off the Cayman reefs. We saw it as a very good tournament. We had Dayne Brady from Clean Gas who did the cooking for us, and he served over 400 lionfish tacos so people could try it and see how good it was.”
John Ferguson, who has caught many lionfish over the years in Cayman waters, was on hand to demonstrate how to safely de-spine and fillet the fish.
Mr. Orr said a new record was set for the smallest lionfish caught – 18 millimeters (0.7 inches) – and the largest one caught this weekend was 305mm (12 inches). The next cull will take place in late August.
One team – Neptune’s Wenches – won prizes for the most lionfish per culler (57.5) and most weight per culler (36 pounds.) Team Feesh caught the smallest lionfish, and Ambassador Divers caught the largest one.
“Our last tournament, we had over 900 fish, and this one brought 500,” said Mr. Orr. “It goes up and down, but divemasters are reporting that they’re seeing a lot less lionfish at the sites they dive at on a regular basis. They’re seeing more return of other reef fish. That’s our goal: To keep our reefs healthy with lots of fish. Eventually, when nature takes over and everything starts seeing these things as prey and they become a regular part of our reef system, we’ll have enough fish to repopulate our reefs.”
CULL has written to the National Conservation Council to request a ban on importing lionfish for local restaurants, but Mr. Orr said so far there has been no new legislation in that direction.
“Bringing in lionfish from other places may help other places, but our goal is to keep our reefs healthy,” he said. “The more fish bought locally, it works toward that end. We’d like to see the price come up so that more cullers are incentivized to go out and get them and increase demand locally.”