I’m just going to put it straight out there and say that I murdered a fish.
For those of you that know me, with my huge love of all things living, and that irresistible urge I have to protect them all…*even that annoying mosquito buzzing in my ear right now*…that may come as a surprise. Even more so if I then said not only am I ok with it, but I actually urge you to do the same. Well, don’t just go killing fish, this is about one fish in particular.
Let’s step back a bit before getting onto the murder.
Firstly, meet the Lionfish:
The Lionfish is native to the indo-pacific region of the world. Someone, at some point (believed to be 1985 near Florida) released a Lionfish into the Caribbean ocean.
This turned out to be an epic disaster.
They might look beautiful, but these creatures are quite lethal in the wrong seas. They have multiple venomous spines, breed like rabbits, eat a ridiculous amount of anything they can lay their jaws on (to the point that some develop fatty liver disease!) and have no natural predators in the Caribbean.
The end result? These invasive species are destroying the reefs. In some areas they have been responsible for a 90% decrease in reef and fish population.
Basically, they are really bad news in the Carribean.
(warning: photo of a dissected fish below)
Solving the problem
There is only one way to keep the Lionfish in check until nature finds a way to adapt, and that is for humans to become a predator. That’s where I come in.
Part of the GoEco program I was doing at Utila Dive Centre was helping out with this conservation issue and getting my PADI Lionfish containment certification. This course teaches you not just how to contain them but also how to monitor and gather data to help ongoing research.
A vegetarian with a spear gun
I was feeling pretty nervous going into the course and I wasn’t sure if I could actually kill a fish. It went against everything I believed in. But, I also had the knowledge that this was the only way to protect the local reef, which is something I really wanted to actively be involved with. So, it was time to stretch my comfort zone.
It helped that the course was taught by fellow vegetarian Dani, who is also a massive environmentalist. It cemented that feeling that this was a good contribution to conservation. Dani taught us about the species and the invasion problem, then how to use the equipment properly to catch any Lionfish we find.
It was pretty simple. We had a plastic tube which had a simple mechanism that meant the contained fish could be pushed in and wouldn’t come out again (think hedgehog in a McFlurry cup *insert grumpy face*).
Plus a hand spear. You hooked your thump into the rubber handle, stretched it back and released the hand causing the 3 spiked end to propel forward.
We practiced a few times in shallow water on recycled plastic bottles and, once the technique was perfected, headed out to find our Lionfish.
My first successful containment
I got too close to my first Lionfish and spooked it away. So I was ready with my second one and knew how close I could get. I pulled my spear taught, steadied my hand on a rock and just blocked all thoughts out of my head and let the training kick in.
I let go of the spear. Lionfish caught. It was quick and humane.
It wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience but I actually felt pretty good afterward. It’s not often that you get to do such hands-on conservation where you can physically remove something detrimental.
I felt even better when we came back to land and dissected the fish to record data and found in her stomach a recently swallowed Blue Chromis…sorry I was too late to save you, little man.
It was a reminder of how many fish are lost to the invasive Lionfish. And how many fish I might have saved who would have otherwise ended up in this one’s stomach.
Nothing goes to waste
What’s also great is that Lionfish are incredibly tasty (supposedly) meaning that they provide probably the only sustainable fish available for people to eat. If you order Lionfish in the Caribbean, you know that you are contributing to the protection of the reef. There is no by-catch involved. You can’t argue with that!
Course passed and Lionfish containment certificate in hand, I now dive often with a container and spear, ready if I see a Lionfish. Doing my bit for conservation.
And you can too. In the Caribbean, always order Lionfish over other options to promote invasive species containment. Or even better, sign up with Utila Dive Centre to be part of tackling the issue head on.
The PADI Lionfish Containment course is a distinct specialty, only available at Utila Dive Centre. The course can be done as part of the GoEco program or as a stand-alone course costing $163. You might also be interested in reading about my experience on the GoEco program or about other ways you can get into marine conservation.
I personally funded this course. As always, I write with 100% honesty and all text are my own. Please note that many of the links on my website are affiliate, meaning that if you click them and make a purchase, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Thank you for reading and for your support! x