Cayman Islands declare war on lionfish

January 6, 2010

New aquatic front opens in war on Nature

Scores of scuba divers have been conscripted by the Cayman Islands’ government in their struggle against invasive lionfish, Reuters reports.

Red lionfish

Isolated lionfish, native to the Indian and Pacific oceans, were first spotted in the Caribbean in 2008. But a lack of natural predators has allowed the species to swell in number, not least because the female can produce a staggering 30,000 eggs each month.

The spiny terrors have an insatiable appetite, and threaten to gobble up all the small fish that ordinarily graze unmolested among the honeymoon destination’s famed corals.

DiveTech, a scuba outfit in the island paradise, is training pleasure divers to become cold-blooded killers.

“You have to be slow and careful and you have to treat them with respect. We have found they are quite clever. So if you move too quickly and scare the fish off, they will remember you and when you get close again they will retreat immediately,” DiveTech’s Simon Dixon told Reuters.

Mercifully for the Caymans’ native fish, humans find the lionfish as tasty as they themselves find their tiny prey. Their flesh has been compared to such local favourites as grouper and red snapper.

Indeed the poisonous monstrosities fetch a sufficiently high price in swanky US restaurants that they may yet provide the Caymans with a new source of income — precious revenue if the war should be lost, and the snorkelling tourists fly elsewhere.