The Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA) and the Utila diving community organized the third Utila lionfish derby in May to deal head-on with the threat posed to Bay Islands reefs by the invasive species.
Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific region, were unintentionally introduced into the Atlantic, where they have few natural predators (although the Healthy Reefs Initiative has been training sharks to eat them; see page 14), in the 1990s. They have migrated to the Bay Islands only in the last few years and have multiplied rapidly.
Spearing them isn’t hard, as they hardly move. But coming in contact with their venomous spines can be very painful.
Derby participants, organized into 18 teams from 12 dive shops, paid Lps. 500 per team to go out with three-pronged pole spears to impale the swimming pests. The catch was served by local chefs at a post-catch cook-off. John Sousa was judged best chef by audible vote for his beignets – a New Orleans-style fried fish recipe. Other chefs prepared Bando (fish soup), fish kabobs, ceviche, fish tacos and fish curry.
Gunter Ecomarine brought in a record catch of 41 lionfish. All together, the 18 teams brought in 314 fish with a fillet weight of nearly 70 pounds. The largest fish brought in measured 31 centimeters, a derby record.
The first Utila Lionfish Derby was held in April 2011 and netted 429 fish, with two-thirds of the catch measuring less than 18 cm. The catch dropped to 305 in the second derby, in November 2011, but the average size was much greater, with 75 percent exceeding 18 cm.
Plans are underway for a fourth derby in November 2012. But technical diving might be necessary, as the lionfish are learning to go deeper to avoid getting speared. [/private]