A diver with a lionfish cull licence spears a fish while on scuba. *Photo by Chris Burville
A diver with a lionfish cull licence spears a fish while on scuba. *Photo by Chris Burville

WEDNESDAY, JULY 27: The slogan for the Groundswell Lionfish Tournament is Eat ‘Em to Beat ‘Em and the rules of the game are to kill them all, big or small.

It might sound ruthless to the uninitiated but by controlling the numbers of invasive lionfish in Bermuda’s waters we are effectively protecting our own reef fish species and in turn our coral reefs.

The second annual tournament is to take place at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences on Sunday, August 7 from 6am to 9pm (rain date August 28).

While it is hoped the event will haul in large numbers of lionfish, it is not primarily designed to reduce their population. The real purpose is to raise awareness of the threat, to help to educate the public about lionfish as a healthy food option and even give people the opportunity to taste the fish at the weigh-in and after-party.

Everyone is invited to the free event whether they participate in the tournament or not — those who do not participate should turn up to BIOS any time after 2:30pm.

Matthew Strong, a founder of the environmental charity Groundswell, said: “I’d like to see a situation in Bermuda where, rather than going out and spearing hogfish or grouper (rockfish), people go out and spear lionfish. Bermuda’s economy is built on two fragile pillars and our historic one — tourism — is threatened by these fish.”

Last year’s tournament was the first of its kind in Bermuda. While about 20 boats participated, only four lionfish were caught on the day. The event took place shortly after two storms and an area of low pressure drove the fish to deeper waters. While it is believed that the majority of lionfish live in deep water, they have been spotted in the shallows, many off the north shore. About 130 cull permits have been issued and no more are available for this tournament.

Entry forms and information can be found online at www.reefspect.com. Forms and entry fees should be dropped to Marine Locker on Gorham Road, Hamilton or to Triangle Diving at Grotto Bay (in cash).

Anyone who does not have a lionfish cull permit must adhere to government’s sport diving regulations. There are no weight or size restrictions for lionfish nor are there any restrictions in method besides spearing on scuba. All fish must be caught a mile from shore and only two of the same species may be caught. All lionfish should be put on ice so they can be cooked by the head chef at Butterfield Bank Chris Malpas at the weigh in and BBQ at 3pm. The Ocean Support Foundation will be present as will representatives from organizers Groundswell.