Do you know about the lionfish? Some might call the lionfish a beautiful fish. Some even go so far as to purchase lionfish to keep in their aquarium and show off to their friends and family. And maybe, at one time, that was a reasonable sort of thing to do. But not now, not here in Utila. Here we like our lionfish dead. That’s right… the only good lionfish is a dead lionfish.
Why? Because they are not supposed to be here. The lionfish are an invasive species to to the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean. They were introduced somewhere around the mid 1990’s on the Florida coast, and have been spreading like the plague ever since. Already their population levels are orders of magnitude greater than the levels found in their native habitat. That’s because here they have no natural predators and they breed like submersible rabbits. It’s estimated that at least 27% of the current population would have to be killed monthly just to maintain population levels. If you are trying to reduce their numbers, or better yet eliminate them entirely, you’re going to have to kill a lot of lionfish.
To make matters worse, aside from just being here, they are harming the local reef ecosystems. They have a habit of eating a lot, compromising the survival of native fish species. Over the long term the lionfish’s appetite could lead to an 80% reduction in reef diversity. That’s a lot of fish species that we won’t be able to see anymore. Bad lionfish.
But There is a Silver Lining:
Lionfish are delicious. They fry up really nice, they are good in stew, and make wonderful ceviche. It’s also a lot of fun to hunt them with spears. They are the only marine life you are allowed to hunt while diving, so they do add a whole new dynamic to diving that wouldn’t exist without them. For a lot of people, killing lionfish has become second nature, and it’s almost expected that you bring along a spear when fun diving. You can kill as many as you like, and there is no shortage of them either. Seeing 3 or 4 in a dive is almost routine.
Annually, the dive shops on Utila organize a lionfish derby and cookout to promote the new sport. In 2011, they managed to catch a little over 300 lionfish in a single day. All of them hit the grill and were eaten up by the hungry masses in mere minutes. And let me tell you, everything was delicious.
If you want to kill lionfish, help the environment, and get free lunch all at the same time, there’s a few things you can do. First, plan for a few days of fun diving. You can’t bring a spear along during any courses, so just plan on making a few extra dives just for fishing. If you don’t already have your advanced certification you might consider getting it. The advanced certification extends your depth limits from 18 metres down to 30 metres. Lionfish love the deeper water, so your odds of seeing some you can reach improves dramatically. Finally, ask about diving on the North Side of Utila. Lionfish numbers are substantially greater on the North Side, and your kill count will benefit from that.
Our first underwater video! A Lionfish Killing Compilation.