The lionfish is a beautiful fish but, unfortunately, they are very invasive and do not belong in the Caribbean Sea. There are different stories about how the lionfish ended up here in the Caribbean and in Curacao. One of those theories is, they hitchhiked in balance tanks of large ocean-going vessels from Asia.
But the story that makes the most sense is of 6 individual lionfish that were accidentally released into the Caribbean Sea during Hurricane Andrew. The hurricane damaged an aquarium that was located on a porch at the edge of Biscayne Bay, Florida in 1992. The lionfish found a way to escape from the aquarium and made it to the Caribbean Sea, their new home.
How did they end up here is not important anymore. But how do we get rid of them and how can we stop this invasion of the lionfish?
Facts about the lionfish
We must hunt the lionfish because they do not belong in the Caribbean Sea. Lionfish its normal habitat is from the east coast of Africa to Australia. In the Caribbean Sea, they do not have a natural predator. Sharks, groupers, and other fish do not know the fish so they will not eat the lionfish. You probably will also not eat something you do not know.
But unlike sharks and humans, they will eat everything. If it fits in their mouth, they will hunt and eat it, even if it is another lionfish. That is why it is important to hunt them. If we do not hunt lionfish, they will hunt all juvenile fish. The lionfish can eat up to 30 times their stomach volume. There has been lionfish found with more than 30 fish in their stomach. That is why they can reduce the juvenile fish population on a reef by nearly 90% in less than two months.
The lionfish are also known as the ”rabbits” of the ocean. They reproduce very quickly. They can reach sexual maturity at the age of one year. The female lionfish can release a pair of mucus coated egg clusters every 30 days which then are fertilized by the males. Those clusters can contain on average between 2000 and 15.000 eggs, but this number can even be as high as 30.000. The larvae hatch after approximately four days and they will become competent swimmers after two or three days. The larvae metamorphose into adults in the range of 20 to 40 days.
Why we need to hunt lionfish
The Lionfish was able to invade the Caribbean Sea very quickly. Lionfish were seen for the first time on Curacao and the other ABC-islands in 2009. In only 11 years they invaded the reefs of the islands and you can find them all around Curacao.
To stop this invasion, we humans need to hunt lionfish. If we wait until nature takes control, sharks and/or other potential predators start hunting the lionfish, it will most probably be too late for the reefs of Curacao and the rest of the Caribbean Sea. But luckily for us, the lionfish is a very delicious fish.
The weapon we use
For lionfish hunting, we use a Hawaiian sling. The Hawaiian sling is made of a spear point, shaft and on the end of the shaft there is a rubber tubing. The spear point consists most of the time out of multiple points to have a better chance to catch the lionfish.
How to hunt for Lionfish
To use the Hawaiian sling to hunt a lionfish underwater, make sure that first your buoyancy is perfect, because you do not want to crash into the reef, or even worse for you, crash on the lionfish. When you are ready, grab the rubber tubing and pull it down the shaft, towards the spear point. Make sure that there is enough tension on the rubbing tubing. At that point, aim at the lionfish and when you are ready, let the shaft go. The spear will shoot forward and if you aim well, you will hit the lionfish. Remember, lionfish are tough. Even when you hit them straight on their heads, they can still be alive. They are stronger than they look. So, make sure when you hit one, it will not swim off your spear.
If you would like to hunt lionfish yourself, buy your own spear in our shop.
After the catch
After we successfully catch a lionfish, we put it in the zookeeper so we can take it safely out of the water without getting stung by the lionfish. Remember, lionfish are venomous, so you do not want to get stung by them. Take in account that even if they are dead, the spines remain venomous. Always be careful with the lionfish. When you are out of the water, put the lionfish in a cool box with ice, to keep them fresh and you can transport them safely to your kitchen or BBQ at home.
You can make different delicious dishes from the lionfish. You can bake the fillet or make a great ceviche from it. Also know that with the rest of the lionfish you can make a delicious broth.