Lionfish: Good to Eat, Fun to Kill

Two weeks to update you on! Fortunately, for those of you reading, nothing (basically) happened during one of them. The other was packed with awesomeness, though.

Two weeks ago, after a day of travel from Hawai’i spending a weekend with the AB and other friends, sleeping less than I should have in a climate significantly colder than the one I was in previously, I, unsurprisingly, caught some sort of cold. Sore throat, stuffy/runny nose, luckily no fever. The week was spent doing very little, hoping to get well in time for last weeks trip! It was very important that I get well, especially with a stuffy nose, for this trip because I was going to be going to Bonaire with my dad and two other guys for a SCUBA trip! (For those that don’t know, a stuffy nose while diving is very bad because of the added pressure of being underwater.)

So, one of the other guys that were be with us is the father of one of my sister’s very good friends (and actually the dad, who also joined us, of the friend who joined us for M***********g whale sharks over the summer) and the other is his brother-in-law. If that means much to anyone. Early Saturday morning we were at BWI to fly by way of Atlanta to Bonaire. International flights only go to Bonaire on Saturdays creating a regularly changing tourist population (almost entirely SCUBA divers) on a weekly and bi-weekly basis. We stayed at a resort designed for divers, with dive shop and dive boats and everything a body could want. One of the great things about Bonaire, for divers, is that many of the great sites are reachable from land, so we also had a truck to get ourselves and our gear around the island. The rest of the week was really not more than a series of dives, meals, and opportunities to just relax. Oh yeah, and it was really warm and sunny. I definitely got my vitamin D in.

As I mentioned, I had been sick the previous week but was not given antibiotics by my doctor because whatever strain of bacteria I had growing in my throat was not scary enough to warrant them. In other words, my nose was still stuffy. I very quickly learned why diving while sick is a poor choice. As I descended into the water, really anything more than a foot, I got an acute pain in my sinuses and adjusting to pressure took at least three times as long as usual. This was very frustrating, as the other three guys I were with could just drop down rapidly as I usually do, while I would hover above them, slowly working my way down to the best parts of the reef between 30 and 60 feet (~10-20m) deep. What I didn’t know, while cruising around and enjoying the beautiful corals and sponges and fishes and other sea creatures, was that my head had saved the best part for the ascent. On the way back up, every time, my sinuses would suddenly fill up and become very stuffy (I guess the drop in pressure allowed an out flowing of mucous and other stuff). When I got to the top and out of the water, going much slower than usual again, I got the opportunity to blow not insignificant quantities of blood mucous from my nose. It was great. So, remember this, I know I will, you really REALLY do not want to go diving when you’re sick. Even if diving is the only thing to do on the island. To try to lessen the effects, I did take a number of dives off, but frankly I should not have been diving at all. I just really really wanted to.

On to the fun stuff! So, first off, the dives were gorgeous, it is what Bonaire is known for. Once my dad has gone through the underwater pictures he took, because his camera can go farther underwater than mine, I will post some of them on the shutterfly account, but that is a ways off. The reef is still quite healthy, certainly in comparison to other Caribbean reefs, and there is a solid diversity of fishes and other marine life. We saw a lot of spotted moray eels (even out swimming around several times), lots of sea slugs, arrowcrabs out and about, several scropionfish, and even a frog fish! One of the nights we went on a night dive (it is dark everywhere but where you shine your flashlight, so it is creepier than your normal dive, but way more life is out and about) and saw a very large tarpon who likes to hang out with divers. My favorite part of that dive, though, was to look out into the dark water, with my light off, and look at the phosphorescence that could come from any number of algae, phytoplankton, hydroids, or bacteria. Everywhere one looked in the darkness there were tiny, bright blue spirals slowly moving upwards. It was so beautiful.

You may have heard that Lionfish (a pacific member of the scorpionfish family) have invaded the Caribbean and are quickly taking over the waters. They are. These gluttonous, beautiful, spike-covered fish are now found throughout the entire Caribbean and up the Eastern seaboard of the USA. The only thing that stops them is water colder than 60F as they have no predators or even parasites here and have been found as deep as 500 feet. Females can produce as many as 30,000 eggs at a time, which sink to deep currents in a sack, and are thus dispersed throughout the sea away from predators (which don’t exist here). They will eat anything that can fit in their mouth, which is quite large, and consume fish, shrimp, crabs, shellfish, and almost anything else. Because they are invasive, nothing recognizes them as predators yet. For these reasons, there are quickly taking over reefs and have destroyed up to 90% of the population of other fishes in some reasons. When the Lionfish showed up in Bonaire about three years ago (they’ve been in the Caribbean for up to 20 years), the island took quick action as diving tourism is really their only source of income. They have set up a program called ELF (Eliminate LionFish) in which some people are given licenses to hunt Lionfish with the ELF tool (a three-pronged, spring activated spear) and scissors. The dead fish are either left on the reef to be eaten by everyone (hoping they will learn to eat them alive) or brought up and used in restaurants. Unfortunately, divers really only tend to go to 100 feet, so who knows what is going on deeper with the populations. In addition to local hunters, they have created a Lionfish hunter certification class through PADI (diving certification system) for tourists to try out and help hunt, so obviously I had to give it a try. The class takes about an hour, then the resort gives you two dives with the instructor (hunters have to go with an instructor so that no one is killing delicious fish other than the Lionfish) to try out the tools of the trade. We didn’t find any Lionfish on the first dive, good for the reef, disappointing for us, but did find several on our second! I got to try for the first one we found, and I got it! It was a fun experience, and as we have already learned, I have no problem, and maybe even a little enjoyment, with killing invasive species. Unfortunately, my catch was just a small one, so it wasn’t really worth eating, but the resort restaurant had been collecting Lionfish fillets from the normal hunters and had it for dinner the same night, so we obviously go some. It is delicious fish! Seriously! A white, kind of flaky, but still substantial flesh (think snapper) with very good flavor. So, if you’re going to the Caribbean, or even the southern parts of the Eastern seaboard, look for Lionfish on menus – you’ll be doing our ocean a service.

Well, in a very short time I will be off for my next adventure, sadly away from the sun and the heat of the islands, in Ohio! I will be working with an Outdoor Education program there and I look forward to telling you all about it.

This entry was posted in Animals, Food, International, SCUBA. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Lionfish: Good to Eat, Fun to Kill

  1. Pete Saucier says:

    It would be nice if we could develop a yearning for Lionfish among Americans. I suspect we then would import millions as we did Patagonian Toothfish. I am ready to try broiled Lionfish. Perhaps we could market them as Organic or Vegan. Just thinkin’.

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