spearinglionfish

The fight to combat the invasive lionfish (which is decimating coral reef fish domains in the Caribbean) took another step in the right direction when the Cayman Islands Tourism Association announced a new lionfish-spearing contest that doubles as a publicity push to increase demand for the fish from local restaurants – Restaurants And Watersports Operators To Partner For Major Lionfish Culling Effort.The tournament, planned for April 26 – 27 on Grand Cayman Island by grocer Foster Food Market , also involves local water sports outfitters.

We’ve blogged about the lionfish plague a lot, and recently, about our own meager efforts to jump start a new craze for lionfish cuisine. But this moves the effort to an entirely new level. Yeah! Go (away) lionfish!!

‘Beautiful, healthy reefs are critical to our dive tourism in the Cayman Islands,’ states Jane van der Bol, executive director for the Cayman Islands Tourism Association ‘By pairing watersports operators and their clients with local restaurants that want to serve lionfish, this event aims to create a self-fulfilling supply and demand situation for this delicious fish. In the process, Cayman’s marine environment benefits!’

We have blogged about the invasive lionfish a number of times, but this New York Times article by Carl Safina sheds an entirely unique perspective on the crisis.

Carl Safina is founder of Blue Ocean Institute at Stony Brook University and a MacArthur Fellow. His books include “A Sea in Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Blowout,” and “The View From Lazy Point; A Natural Year in an Unnatural World,” which won the  2012 Orion Award. His series “Saving the Ocean” will be premiering this fall on PBS television.

Mr. Safina also has a reputation as a super fisherman. In this, the fourth in a series of New York Times articles about the invasive lionfish, he writes about a fascinating new theory on how, or why, the lionfish invasion of the Atlantic and Caribbean has succeeded.

 

Over the course of the last week, our “Saving the Ocean” video crew touched shores and reefs of the Bahamas, Florida and Mexico. Each time we landed on the sea floor, we quickly found lionfish. How could they have spread in the Atlantic so quickly after being nonexistent here just 20 years ago?

 

Something that keeps them in check in their native Indian Ocean and west Pacific haunts is missing here. It’s often the case that invaders transported to new haunts quickly build to plague-like levels. But I have an additional thought in this case. Before widespread overfishing, Atlantic reefs held enormous numbers of fishes of dozens of species. They all managed to find enough food to support themselves. With so many fish depleted by our hooks, nets and traps, all the food that once made groupers, snappers, sea basses and others was available to go elsewhere.

Lionfish may be, in that sense, the incarnation of all the other fish we’ve already eaten. How they’re overdoing it just might reflect, at least in part, how we’ve overdone it.

Last March I wrote about fishing for lionfish on our island, Long Caye at Glover’s Reef. Glover’s Reef is a protected Marine Reserve, and therefore fishing is prohibited (except catch-and-release for sport fishermen). The only fish you can catch and keep is lionfish. This is because these fish are non-native and a very recent arrival in the Caribbean, as this is a Pacific fish. Lionfish are a major problem, they are voracious eaters and are spreading rapidly. We are doing what we can, for the first time in years we are taking spearguns on snorkel expeditions. Sometimes we feed them to the eels, and we have been experimenting with lionfish as a culinary delight! View our post from last March.

Asha Agnish, a two-time return guest, just sent me an article from the New York Times about this very subject! Answer for Invasive Species: Put It on a Plate and Eat It It seems that once again, great minds think alike. Our blog was just a tiny bit ahead of the New York Times! Thanks Asha!