The lionfish must have started making the news here in the Florida Keys about two years ago, 2009. I had heard many horror stories about them eating their way up the east coast of Florida to North Carolina and through the Caribbean Islands devouring everything they could catch. Was this ferocious creature really invading the Florida Keys? Nah, that just won’t happen to my Keys!
My first Lionfish Sighting
Soon after the first report hit the news of one of these creatures being spotted and captured off Key Largo another one was spotted and captured off Marathon. Then more and more reports from divers in all depths of water were seeing them. Last year during the mini lobster season I spot one myself under a big coral head on the Atlantic side of the Lower Keys. I didn’t want to believe these fish were really here but looking at one right in the eye proved I was wrong, they are really here!
Since that first eye opening sighting of that venomous I have spotted many more of them. There’s a cool shrimp boat wreck not three miles form here where me and my friend Al killed 8 of those bad boys a couple of months ago and two weeks later we dove the same place, it had a new flock of them, there were 13 staring at us. Unfortunately we didn’t have our pole spears with us, but we will go back and kill them.
I have this lobster honey hole out front that only a few people know about and not all of them hit it every year. As a matter of fact, I didn’t get out to it last year, but I did the year before and it was loaded with nice lobster and NO lionfish. Well fast forward to this year and it’s covered with them. I spotted more than 20 in just 15 minutes of prospecting for lobster before season opened this year. And they are the largest ones I’ve spotted yet. I was blown away, under one coral head there were five of these eating machines just hanging there.
These Fish are Bad News
With all the media hype we understand these invasive fish are bad for the Florida Keys, but what do we do about it? Well this is the perfect fish for all those people who love to spearfish. I don’t know what it is but I’ve taken some folks out who have spear guns and they just want to kill everything they see. Don’t be one of those people, that’s wrong. The lionfish is your perfect target. Think about it, finally a fish with no limit to size or no bag limit. You have the opportunity to hunt down and kill as many of them as you can find. I welcome you to please do just that. Organize teams and see who can bring back the most fish.
Spines and Stings
You need to be smart about handling these fish, their spines are venomous and really sharp. If you get stuck by one of the spines it will cause serious pain, but it’s not life threatening.
You can contact the people at REEF, an organization in Key Largo to find out when they will be hosting the next lionfish awareness seminar, they also teach you how to safely harvest these spiny fish. They also sponsor the lionfish derby’s here in the Florida Keys. Or you can enroll in a PADI specialty course which are taught in local Keys dive shops
It’s seems obvious the lionfish is here to stay, we will never totally get rid of them. If you love diving in the Florida Keys and enjoy watching all the beautiful fish or if you enjoy fishing for snapper and grouper, then you need to get involved in helping to control this invasion.
Pole Spear or Spear Gun?
So, what’s the best weapon to use to assure a kill each time you shoot one of these invaders? I discovered the three prong pole spear works the best for me. Because these fish aren’t huge and don’t have thick skins like a snapper or grouper it doesn’t take a lot of power to penetrate their skin. The pole spear is the weapon of choice for me but you do need to have the gig type spear head, the ones with the single or double flapper just don’t work that well. Lots of these fish are way too small for those large spear heads to be effective on. Then the issue is to get them off the spear, with the gig type it’s easy to just shake them off most the time.
Hey, there’s an added bonus, they’re very tasty. The filet is transparent like that of a Hog Fish. Of course you’ll need to find larger fish to be able to get a good filet, but believe me they’re here. Enjoy your fish and happy hunting.
Here’s a recipe from the REEF lionfish cookbook:
4 filets -
½ cup onions -
½ cup olive oil -
3 Tablespoons capers -
¼ cup and tbsp lemon juice -
1 Tablespoon sugar -
¼ teaspoon pepper -
¼ teaspoon salt -
1 baguette, thinly sliced
Thinly slice fillets so they’re almost translucent. Thinly slice the onion. Put the fish and the onion on a platter. Stir olive oil, lemon juice and sugar in a bowl together until blended. Add capers. Pour mixture on top of lionfish and onion platter. Serve with slices of baguette. Bon Appetite.