Wow! What a day! Sometimes it really pays off to talk to people even when you don’t particularly want to. So when Diane from Lumbadive introduced herself and wanted to show us her pictures, we could have said ‘No thanks, we have all our own gear and can dive on our own.’ Instead, we said, “Sure, we’d love to see your pictures.” And it started this snowball rolling. She mentioned the derby. We were interested. She sent Richard to talk to us about it. Dave asked if we could hire his boat to participate. And Richard started making phone calls. He got a captain and crew together and told us to meet him at 7:30 the next morning. Steve from Slow Flight talked to his friends, Steven and Natasha from Turning Points, and they decided to come.
So we had a huge team with Richard, Brian, Travis and Boogse (locals), Dave, Steve, George (Wildcat), and Steven and Natasha diving and hunting; and me and Captain Vaughn on the boat.
I did snorkel the first dive to try to take pictures and help keep track of the team, but Vaughn is well practiced and has a great eye for seeing the divers’ bubbles at the surface.
I grew very tired snorkeling at the surface where all the current was and signaled to be picked up, just as our dive master, Richard, surfaced with a sizable lionfish in the holding container. Unfortunately, as he came to the boat a spine sticking out of the net nicked his toe.
As I am sure you are aware, lionfish are venomous even after they die. Richard squeezed blood out of his toe to try to eject the venom and put a warm pack on it. Eventually, our other divers surfaced and we picked them up. Now, being a derby, we only had until 1:00 PM to turn in our catch. So it was decided that we would go to the next dive spot, drop off our divers, then take Richard back to shore to see to his toe. Vaughn was flying back, now with the responsibility of the divers he left behind and the injured diver he’s taking to shore. I would call that a stressful situation. About halfway there, Richard keels over, falling on his face on the bottom of the boat. Vaughn is freaking out, slapping him on the back, driving the boat, and calling, “RICHARD! RICHARD!” I’m sitting there with my jaw in my lap, saying, “Seriously? Seriously?” And I started slapping Richard on the back. I look at Vaughn and his eyes are the size of saucers. Unbelievable that it was possible, he sped up even more. We are just about to enter the anchorage, when Richard jumps up on his feet, pointing at Vaughn and laughing like a maniac. Oh, he got us alright. He got us good. I’ve known this guy for all of, what? Three hours? When we pull up to the dock, Richard hops off and walks down the dock like nothing ever happened.
Vaughn and I return full speed ahead to the divers. We see that they are spread out, but then the distance starts closing, and then they spread out again. We keep counting bubble sets. We should still have 8 people in the water, but I can only see 6 bubble sets. I check with Vaughn and he confirms there are only 6 bubble sets. So we start scanning the surface. Soon we see two heads pop up, George and Boogse, quite a ways back. We go pick them up and then the others start surfacing. With lionfish!
We caught a total of 10-12 lionfish, some were sizable and some were very small. Right off the bat, we were warned that the fishermen would win for the largest fish and largest catch total, so our only hope was to win for the smallest. We considered it a success and headed back to the dive shop where Richard greeted us and showed us only a slightly swollen toe. He must have gotten the venom out, thank goodness.
After showering on our respective boats, we went back ashore to take a taxi to the event. We made it to Hillsborough and Deefer Dive Shop in time to see the measuring, counting, and filleting of the lionfish.
After cutting off the spines, it is similar to filleting any other fish. I think we can do this on our own, if we catch any lionfish along our travels. Then we moved to Wayne’s Bar for the good part: the lionfish cookout and the awards ceremony. Lionfish is a white meat fish with a very mild flavor and can be cooked in a great many ways. The cooks simply spread a little barbecue sauce on the filets, wrapped them in foil, and tossed them on the grill.
The awards were given for the second largest catch: 45 lionfish; the largest catch: 82 lionfish; the smallest lionfish: 11cm; and the largest lionfish: 41.5 cm.
Our team won the prize for the smallest lionfish! We had donated our catch to the locals that joined us on the dive, so they were quite please with the $1000EC award. Nice! Altogether, the teams caught over 250 lionfish today! Cheers to saving the reefs!
Some interesting lionfish facts: Lionfish have no natural predators in Florida, the Bahamas, or the Caribbean. Lionfish are native to the IndoPacific and there are many theories circulating about how they came to be in the Caribbean. However, since lionfish have migrated south over time from Florida – only arriving in Grenada in 2011 – the theory that they were released from a Florida aquarium due to hurricane damage around 1985 seems plausible. Lionfish release tens of thousands of eggs up to every 4 days, which float on the surface of the water where they are fertilized. The floating nature of these eggs adds to the ability of the species to spread over long distances. Lionfish can live up to 15 years and have a voracious appetite, reducing some local fish species up to 80 percent. They eat reef fish, young snapper and grouper, and small crustaceans.
Recently, the islands have been educating people on the edibility and safe handling of lionfish, which is making them a marketable commodity and helping to lower their numbers. Even more recently, divers have been training eels to eat them. Eels are fast and can swallow them headfirst, folding the venomous spines back. Divers are also trying to teach Nassau groupers how to eat them, but they are slower and this is more difficult. All these efforts show promise for bringing back the reef fish. We are happy to assist in the eradication of this beautiful but invasive species. Please do not release any aquarium fish anywhere.