Cullers seek to gain back ground on lionfish population

Weekend cull targets invasive species

Lionfish are an invasive species whose population has exploded in local and regional waters over the past decade.

The recovery of nature in the absence of humans during lockdown has been one of the silver linings to the coronavirus crisis.

But while the apparent resurgence of sharks, fish and turtles on Cayman’s reefs has been celebrated, the lingering presence of a less welcome species is causing concern.

Invasive lionfish have long been identified as a threat to marine life. Populations of the exotic species, which has no known predators in the Atlantic, have been kept under control over the past decade by divers with spears.

But the lockdown has meant that, without human hunters keeping their numbers in check, lionfish have bounced back.

Now Ocean Frontiers dive shop in East End is seeking to gain back ground with a two-day cull.

“We will start early and dive all day until we run out of tanks,” the company said in a press release.

Competitors can join Ocean Frontiers’ fleet of boats on Saturday and Sunday this weekend as they venture into ‘unhunted territory’ beyond the popular sites where scuba tours normally go.

Lionfish hunters help keep the invasive population under control. – File: Photo

The dives will involve a ‘parachute drop’ with buddy teams dropped off at different locations to cover as much ground as possible.

Divers may enter as teams, groups of friends, corporate groups, or teams will be allocated on the boat the day of the trip, for any diver without a team.

Prizes will be awarded in the following categories:

  • Longest lionfish
  • Highest overall catch quantity
  • Highest overall catch in weight
  • Smallest lionfish
  • Best overall boat (highest points)
  • Booby prize

The winner in each category will receive a certificate and a gift certificate from either Ocean Frontiers, Eagle Rays or Compass Point Dive Resort. The event costs $99 per day or $150 for both days. Divers must be Nitrox-certified.

Hunters must have their own spears and be trained and licensed to cull lionfish. Spotters and tube carriers can also attend and do not need to be licensed.

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