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April 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 38, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Hunting Lionfish, Then Eating Them

from the April, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

How are lionfish changing reef ecology in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean? It's a question on the mind of marine conservation scientists, divers and Cozumel dive operators, who depend on the health of their marine park for their future.

Divemasters on Cozumel routinely remove lionfish and report the numbers they removed to a central count. It probably does decrease the numbers on the heavily-dived sites. I noted that Cockroach Wall, north of town and much less visited, was loaded with lionfish. On that dive, Jeremy offered a tiny, spring-loaded pole spear and protective glove to any diver who wanted to join a hunt. He gave a stern warning about avoiding the venomous spines, noting that it will hurt bad and "there is nothing we can do to help." Two of my group took a spear and helped Jeremy kill 15 on that dive. Six of the larger ones went onto Jeremy's stringer for dinner.

The divemasters acknowledge that hunting only limits the species in the heavily-visited areas, as lionfish are widespread and live below normal dive depths. What's their impact? Jeremy said it's too early to tell, but he's worried. He asked if I had seen any black cap basslets, usually common under ledges on deeper reefs. No, I hadn't. He feels certain this is due to the lionfish.

A recent study in a Bahamian marine park shows that grouper have started eating lionfish, but apparently not yet on Cozumel. When the lionfish are speared and killed, other fish do eat the carcasses. I saw two ocean triggers fight over one.

And I ate a few myself. As Undercurrent reported in January 2012, conservationists on the island of St. Maarten reported some concern about potential ciguatera poisoning. But in Cozumel, they are eaten daily by fisherman, divemasters and those who dine at Bahia del Caribe, a restaurant owned by the fishermen's coop. I had pez leon ceviche with mojo de ajo (garlic lime sauce). Delicious.

-- M.A.

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