Department of Environment continues lionfish battle

| 11/04/2010

Cayman Islands News, Grand Cayman Island Science and Nature News, Lionfish in the Cayman Islands(CNS): The Department of Environment says there are now over 300 divers and snorkelers trained on the course developed by the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) and certified by the Marine Conservation Board to catch and remove lionfish from Cayman waters, and between them they have removed over a 1,000 fish. The battle to control these invasive and aggressive fish is a tough one but the DoE has said that, having begun to address the fish’s numbers early in Cayman waters, despite their widespread invasion of the wider Caribbean region, it is still possible to control the numbers in local waters. (Photo by Alex Henderson)

Lionfish were first seen in Florida in 1992 where people believe the fish, which is native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, may have escaped from an aquarium during Hurricane Andrew. Now they have spread throughout the east coast of the US and the Caribbean, from Rhode Island to Venezuela, with their range expanding each year. In the Cayman Islands, the first lionfish was seen in 2008.
Lionfish mature in less than one year, spawn every 30 days and have no natural predators in the Caribbean, so their populations quickly get out of control. They are ravenous predators of small fish and invertebrates and with their exploding numbers can wipe out native species. This makes them a critical threat to reef ecosystems and to diving, fishing, and tourism industries.
As a result of the invasion the DoE, local divers and operators have partnered with REEF and other researchers in many Caribbean countries to document and control the spread of lionfish. In the Cayman Islands specifically divers have been licensed to catch lionfish and remove them from our waters. Given the rapid spread of lionfish through the Caribbean, the goal is not to eradicate them, as experts say it would be impossible, but to reduce their population.
In the summer of 2009, Alex Andryszak, a senior at Erskine College, USA, also assisted the DoE with the new lionfish research programme. He and DoE officers caught and collected lionfish and logged all captures into a database. Ongoing research efforts include mapping distribution of captures, taking DNA samples, measuring and dissecting fish to determine maturity, sex, and stomach contents, and monitoring ocean currents to predict patterns in the spread of juvenile fish.
“Every fish caught represents millions of eggs not released and reef fish not eaten,” the DoE said in its recent Marine Research Newsletter. “We are fortunate that the Cayman Islands responded to the invasion early and have seen an incredible response from dive operators and the public. This gives us a chance to control lionfish in our waters and see our native fish and invertebrate populations survive.”
The DoE said that if anyone sees a lionfish they should not attempt to catch it without a license but to notify your dive operator or call DoE. Anyone who wishes to be certified to remove the fish can be certified. The course takes one evening and all scuba divers may also participate by taking part in a Dive Tech lionfish hunt and spotting lionfish for licensed cullers to catch. The DoE has established a lionfish Facebook group (DOE Lionfish Culling Group), where people can post sightings for licensed lionfish cullers to catch, share photos and videos and discuss lionfish capture gear and techniques.
To report sightings or arrange training Grand Cayman: 949-8469 or 916-4271. Cayman Brac and Little Cayman: 926-2342 or 916-7021. Email:
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Category: Science and Nature

About the Author ()

Comments (14)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. -Jeff says:

    Here on St Croix we use markers to mark the location of lionfish and go back for them after the guests are dropped off.

    The markers cost only a few cents to make- a wine cork, a 3/4" washer and about 3 feet of survey tape is all you need. Tie the tape to the washer, poke a hole through the cork, thread the other end of the tape through, then wind the tape around the cork and stick the cork partially through the washer to lock it in place to stow in a pocket.

  2. peter milburn says:

    Just wanted to make a suggestion re the Lion fish that we now have in Cayman waters.Why not take them and put them in a "vacant"pond/tank at the Turtle Farm and fatten them up with food other than baby fish.Possibly turtle food?They could then be used in our local restaurants and the T.Farm could make some money from the sale of these guys.One has to be somewhat careful in killing these fish with divers on board(paying customers)as not all see these fish as problematic and frown on said killing as going against our conservation laws.I have tried explaining the reason for this culling but some still dont understand our doing this.Maybe if they could taste the little buggers they would change their minds as from what I have heard they are very tasty indeed.It does seem rather a waste to just kill and dump them.

    • Anonymous says:

      You are so right!!!


      It is hypocritical to be saving some species and say the Caymans are big on conservation and then take tourists and show people in dive gear killing, oh yes, I mean "culling" beautiful sea creatures.  I know Lionfish are a problem but I this is getting to be a cult activity on the sister islands.

      So if you have a license you can now kill fish in dive gear?   

    • Anonymous says:


      if they do this and a hurricane comes like Ivan and they get all washed back to the sea that is why we have them in our waters now they got washed back in Fla. storm

  3. Jan says:

    The DOE has done an amazing job in educating the public, training people to safely catch lionfish and assisting us where they can.  It is not their responsibility to provide us with the gear to catch them.  If you are trained and certified lionfish culler, you can get a couple of nets from Sports Supply for $8.00. If you want to get the "real gear" you can get this from Underwater Supply.  No other country has done  more to reduce the damage done by this invasive species and you only need to travel to the Bahamas to see what is happening there.  We will not be able to eradicate lionfish completely because of their reproduction rate, but we can keep the numbers down so that they don’t kill off all our beautiful fish. 

    • Anonymous says:

      The BVI Gov’t’s Conservation and Fisheries Department applied for and received a grant of £20,000, equivalent to just over US$30,000 to combat the invasion of the fish species in the Territory’s waters.

      The grant was given by the United Kingdom’s Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) to monitor, control and raise awareness of the threat of the Lionfish in the Territory.


  4. First I’d like to say a huge THANK YOU to all of our licensed cullers for their time and dedication to what is considered as ‘The worst marine invasion in history!’ Your efforts are very much appreciated.

    I’d also like to point out that it is NOT the DoE that is bringing in the capture equipment. Bert Foster of Underwater Supply has very kindly agreed to handle the sourcing and importation of the gear for us but unfortunately the capture equipment is not cheap. Those items do cost that much to purchase and import. Ideally the DoE would give out the capture kits for free to anyone that wanted to help remove lionfish, but considering our current economic state, which I know everyone else is dealing with as well, that is impossible.

    Cindy, in the post above, does make a valid point that there other ways to catch lionfish and as long as you’ve been licensed you’ll have an idea of how to catch them and what else you could use. I would NOT recommend using any gloves other than the puncture proof gloves that are being sold. The spines on the lionfish are as sharp as hypodermic needles and will penetrate regular garden or even leather gloves.

    Please do not think of the lionfish invasion as a problem which the Government must fix on its own. This is something which can only be addressed as a Country and something which every resident must be involved with. Anyone who would like to learn more about the lionfish is invited to attend the licensing classes which will give you a complete understanding of what we’re dealing with.

    At the very least please report any lionfish sightings to us.

    Bradley Johnson


  5. Cindy Abgarian says:

     As someone who was trained and given a Lionfish culling license In March of last year. I can attest to the fact that there are other means available for catching this invasive species, without a large out of pocket expense. Between myself , and sometimes the help of an additional licensed diver,I can account for the capture of nearly 30 some odd Lionfish in a two month period this past winter.

     What I use, is a large, heavy plastic ,zippered bag, the type that comforters and such are purchased in, this , and a prodder of some sort, such as a large plastic spoon, or spatula, or even a kniiting needle. As a frequent diver, I keep the bag with me at all times , rolled up in my BC pocket, and my prodder attached to the front of jacket. This sytsem works well as you can carry it with you without much effort at all, and be ready to capture the Lionfish when you first see them. I do my best to poke the back of the bag into potential exit routes,with minimal impact to the reef structure, and then shoo the bugger into the bag with the poker. On one dive, myself and another, were able to capture 5 lionfish on the same dive, using the same bag, and just keeping those in the bag to the rear of the opening.

     I have seen others use Tupperware containers and the like with good success.

    Pllease don’t be put off the hunt , due to lack of funds to purchase the "set".

    We have an invasive species in the island waters, and we need to do our best to control it.


  6. Mmm tasty says:

    I have yet to see Lionfish on a Cayman menu – it is quite the fish du jour in New York and Miami.  Let’s put the cull into culinary . . . .

  7. Seriously says:

    This fish is becoming more and more apparent in Cayman waters and so the more people involved in catching them the better.  What a pity, therefore, that the DOE is charging $140 for the nets and gloves that are used to catch them. 

    If the government was serious about keeping thesefish under control (a pipe dream I am afraid to say) then surely they should be handing out free nets to those who are qualified to kill them.  If they did not want to hand them out because they are worried that people just won’t use them then they could come up with a system whereby if you caught, say, 20+ fish you got your money back.  I for one will not pay that much money.  At the end of the day this fish will decimate Cayman waters and ultimately it falls on the government to do all it can do to try and prevent it.  It is a tad cheeky to ask divers to shell out hundreds of dollars for something that the government should be handing out.  I am all for catching them but I personally do not want to be out of pocket doing it. 

    • Anonymous says:

      I wound up buying a set – the needle proof gloves are $35 alone.  DOE/CITA, how about handing out some free lead-shot markers to those that can’t afford the nets and gloves?  These people are spending their personal time (and risking serious bodily injury) to curtail the infestation of the these waters, and deserve some basic support to do the job.

  8. Christa Wingfield says:

    Bradley Cooper recently trained and certified 28 divers to cull Lionfish and some of them are hard at it.  Others are dedicated to marking and reporting the locations so licensed cullers can catch them.



    TIBBETT’S has a new supply of the pink tape for marking locations.  Only $1.65 per roll.

    Thanks for all your support.

    Christa – Head Lionfish Cheerleader






    • Anonymous says:

      I never noticed a cheerleader happy about killing off the football team.

      The zeal  of this and the lack of interest in making lionfish food instead of just fun to kill is inhuman