The moment of truth: Writer Sarah Lagan catches her first lionfish on Russell Whayman’s French Angelfish Wreck. *Photo by Chris Burville
The moment of truth: Writer Sarah Lagan catches her first lionfish on Russell Whayman’s French Angelfish Wreck. *Photo by Chris Burville
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With the 2013 Lionfish Tournament fast approaching, you may want to considering taking part in the Lionfish Culling Programme that will give you a permit to spear the invasive fish.

The programme is open to scuba divers, snorkellers and free divers over the age of 16 who will receive a permit to hunt lionfish and help to save our native and endemic fish populations.

The course, run by the Ocean Support Foundation, takes about two-hours to complete and covers detailed information about the invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish, the threat they are causing to Bermuda’s marine environment and the devastating effect they have already had along the east coast of American and in the Caribbean. It also covers spearing practices, safe handling and details of how the Lionfish Culling Programme works.

Finally, participants are informed on how to make detailed records of all the lionfish that they catch which will help towards researching effective methods of catching them. On completing the course, students are given a plastic tag, a lionfish diving flag and a paper permit signed off by the Department of Environmental Protection.

The 2013 Lionfish Tournament takes place on July 20 at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences.

Entry forms for the Groundswell tournament are available online at www.reefspect.com or at Marine Locker. Entry forms with payment can be returned to Marine Locker.


I caught my first lionfish easily... maybe you can too
A Fishy Dish: Lionfish is a delicate, light taste and it is good for you — high in Omega 3 and low in heavy metals. *Photo by Corey Eddy

Ever since I started learning about the devastation being caused by invasive lionfish in the Atlantic, I have wanted to do something to help.

So as soon as I heard that marine conservation charity the Ocean Support Foundation (OFS) was designing a Lionfish Culling Programme I was keen jump on board.

I’m glad to say, it has been a surprisingly seamless process — two weeks after completing the course I have already bagged my first lionfish.

It began on, June 11 when I walked into a packed out classroom at the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo. Corey Eddy, who is on the technical dive team and is a dry land volunteer for OSF, introduced himself and outlined the course ahead.

Anyone who has been to a lecture on lionfish will be aware of most of the information that was presented in the course but it provided a nice refresher and solidified my knowledge about what a permit would entitle me to do.

The culling programme is one step in an ‘Eat Um To Beat Um’ strategy. It also allows participants to offer valuable information to OSF in order to help them to implement a large-scale lionfish management strategy and possibly even work with government to one-day create a commercial fishery.

Last Sunday I was invited out scuba diving with seasoned diver Russell Whayman. He took us to a shipwreck that he himself discovered in the north-east reefs off St David’s sitting in about 75 feet of water. He calls it French Angelfish Wreck because of two extremely rare French Angelfish he and his dive buddies have spotted there over the years. We were incredibly lucky to see one of them during the dive — Russell said he had not seen them for some five years, but sadly there was only one.

With my mind wondering about the fate of its partner, I saw Russell pointing to an overhang on the wreck. I knew it wasn’t the other angelfish when I saw him handing me his spear. I was able to hold the three-pronged paralyzer spear within a few centimeters of what looked like a juvenile lionfish before releasing it into its head.

I didn’t receive any joy out of killing the fish, not in any sporting sense, but I’ll not deny that I had a sense of satisfaction knowing I had just helped countless fish from its voracious and indiscriminate appetite.

The fish remained alive until we got back to the boat and put it on ice.

 

Back at home I had the daunting task of removing its 18 venomous spines and filleting it. I didn’t have a sharp enough knife so had to use a rolling pin to bash the blade through the hard spines and take off the head and tail. After removing the stomach and filleting the fish, I washed it off, sprinkled it simply with lime and ground pepper and took it to a friend’s BBQ. As my fish was only a tiny 10 inches, the seven party members only got a little taste each but every one of them loved it.

It is a light, delicate fish not far off grouper and hogfish. What’s more it is healthy — full of Omega 3 and low in heavy metals.

Bermuda’s local fish are certainly on the lionfish’s menu — what is important is that we try to get lionfish on to ours.

The best way? Get your lionfish permit and catch your own, or continue to ask the local restaurants to get lionfish on the menu to create a demand. If you want to taste it for yourself head to the Lionfish Tournament at BIOS on July 20 where there will be samples.

For more information on lionfish visit http://www.oceansupport.org