Cullers dent lionfish lockdown explosion

Lionfish hunters culled nearly 350 of the invasive predators during a two-day competition last weekend.

Organised by Ocean Frontiers dive shop, the event saw cull teams target rarely visited sites, off the beaten track for regular dive charters.

On Saturday, divers targeted a stretch of coast from Bodden Town to East End, hauling in 128 fish over the course of four dives.

On Sunday, cullers had more success, targeting the north side of the island and pulling in 219 fish.

Steve Broadbelt, owner of Ocean Frontiers, who organised the cull, said lionfish populations had crept back up in the absence of divers during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The invasive species, which has no known predators in the Atlantic, targets juvenile reef fish and is a threat to the eco-system if populations are not kept in check by divers with spears.

He said the weekend event had gone some way towards undoing the damage caused during COVID.

Broadbelt captained the boat himself, carving up the fish on board to serve lionfish ceviche to divers.

There were prizes for the winning teams in each category, along with beers and lionfish tacos at the end of the day.

He said it was encouraging that divers had snagged so many fish over the weekend.

“It is rewarding, but it is very worrying,” he added.

Prior to lockdown, he said, cullers felt they had “won the battle” against lionfish. Restaurants were struggling to get enough fish to serve their customers, and there was less need for large-scale culling expeditions.

“What this has shown is that it is not going to go away, and if you leave it, it will sneak back up on you and continue to have a negative impact on our reefs,” he said.

He estimates a similar trip a year ago would have yielded less than half the amount of lionfish.

“it is important to keep them in check and now to step up our efforts after lockdown and at least for the short term,” he added.

Ocean Frontiers is planning another hunt for 20 Sept.

Day 1 results

Total cull for Saturday – 128

Smallest  fish – 85mm, Team Zero to Hero

Longest fish – 290mm, Team Sting

Most fish – 26, Bucket Bubblers

Most weight – 16.25 lbs, Team Sting

Day 2 Results

Total cull for Sunday -219

Smallest fish – 85mm, Team Red Fish Dead Fish

Longest fish – 305mm, Team Non-Contenders

Most fish – 46, Neptunes Wenches

Most weight – 25 lbs, Neptunes Wenches

Overall winners for the weekend with most culled over both days was Bucket Bubblers.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now