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Friday, May 2, 2014

Pretty, Devastating Scaly Cannibal

fishing, cruising life, ecosystem

Lionfish safely behind glass at John Pennekamp Park’s
Welcome Center aquarium.
Frilly.  Zebra striped.  Delicate and exotic, Lionfish are really quite pretty.

But, Deadly?
Yup.  They are studded with venomous spines.  While rarely fatal for humans, their voracious appetites (mature lionfish even sometimes eat juvenile lionfish), relative lack of predators and bullying behavior reputedly devastates reef diversity and seriously threatens reef ecosystems.  Still, lionfish stings are extremely painful, and may also trigger headaches, vomiting, and breathing difficulties. Getting stung by sea wasps (and a nasty land wasp last year – click here to see my elephantitis arm) that was enough to make me lionfish wary.  FYI - A common immediate home treatment is soaking the afflicted area in hot water.

fishing, cruising life, ecosystem

Nature Conservancy poster on lionfish,
seen at CEI.
Invasive?
Yes.  Urban legend has it they made their foray into Florida and Caribbean waters due to aquariums damaged in hurricane Andrew. However research shows their mid 1980s presence predates that.  Once in the top 10 species for aquarium owners (and still popular), the theory is aquarium owners turned them loose, likely not realizing the potential wide reaching impact. Prodigious reproducers, lionfish are capable of spewing out up to 15,000 egg clusters monthly.

Turning the Tables – Eat It to Beat It!
Wikipedia notes “Other interest groups, such as NOAA, are setting up events and campaigns that encourage the killing and eating of the fish.[36] Many people are wary of the idea of eating a venomous fish, but when properly filleted the fish is safe to eat. Encouraging the consumption of lionfish could not only help to maintain a reasonable population density, but also provide an alternative fishing source to other over fished populations, such as grouper and snapper. The Reef Environmental Education Foundation has even prepared a cookbook to help educate restaurant chefs on how they can incorporate the fish into their menu (click here to purchase their for their fund-raising lionfish cookbook). The NOAA calls the lionfish a ‘delicious, delicately flavored fish’ similar in texture to grouper.[44] Many recipes for lionfish can be found in coastal cookbooks, some including fried lionfish, lionfish ceviche, lionfish jerky and grilled lionfish.

fishing, cruising life, ecosystem

Whiteboard warning on Cape Eleuthera Institute
lionfish tank. 
My Lionfish Sightings
Despite hearing lionfish have become a common nuisance in the Bahamas, I still never expected to see them outside an aquarium.  Florida Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Park’s welcome center saltwater aquarium offered a good lionfish prelude.

Snorkeling with Ann of Krazy Lady in the Ragged Island’s Hog Cay, she spotted the only lionfish I’ve seen so far “in the wild.”  “I used to see them all over last year” Ann said.  “Now, not so much.”

At Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) we also got a gander lionfish prevention efforts, as well as more lionfish in captivity for study.  ‘Krazy Lady’ Ann and Andy of Andante led us to CEI as a suggested stop with our joint South Eleuthera rental car tour.  CEI is paying local fishermen $11 / pound for lionfish to help promote the reduction of lionfish.  “They’re easy to catch” we’ve been told.  “Without  predators, they tend to just look at you.  Then you spear them.”

fishing, cruising life, ecosystem

Lionfish in Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) lionfish
research tank.
Eat It to Beat It?
At Eleuthera’s Governor’s Harbour, I opted to buy a pound of hogfish fillet from the local fisherman, instead of the “tastes just like chicken” bite from their already safely filleted (venomous spines removed) lionfish.  I didn’t think Wayne would try it, though found out he would’ve.  Next time.  Spearing them myself?  First I’d like to learn how to spear a non-venomous fish that offers more than three bites of a fillet.

Would you catch a lionfish?  Would you eat a lionfish?  Who would you trust to fillet it?

fishing, cruising life, ecosystem

Poster created by Dawn WItherington
at CEI depicting how to safely
remove lionfish spines.
Location Location

May 2, 2014 BAHAMAS.  We’re in Spanish Wells, Eleuthera (N25.32.484 W76.44.728) , kicking ourselves a little for delaying our planned overnight sail to the Abacos today.  Weather reports forecast winds a bit too light for sailing, and seas a bit higher than we’d like.  Turns out it was windy enough to sail and now we’re debating our next sailing window.