It looks pretty ferocious swimming straight at me – 13 feet of smooth cartilage and muscle topped by rows of jagged teeth and a wide mantle with unblinking black eyes on either end. But this great …
BugFest Underway; Lionfish Also on the Menu!
Post-dive lobster barbecues are going to be a lot more sumptuous than usual during this summer’s two-day, Florida-wide lobster mini-season July 29-30. Extra lobsters will sizzle on the grill, accompanied by tasty fillets of exotic lionfish. That’s because the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission is allowing divers to take an extra lobster over the bag limit each day for harvesting ten or more lionfish. It’s a special incentive program to help control the burgeoning population of the exotic, peppermint-striped invaders from the Indo Pacific with venom-tipped fins.
Here are some tips to help you catch your limit of bugs while taking as many lionfish as you want:
— In the Atlantic, lionfish and lobsters are often found together in dark caverns and beneath coral ledges in depths ranging from 15 feet to more than 100 feet. You’ll find plenty of lobsters in shallow water, but more lionfish in 60 feet or deeper because of local culling efforts at heavily-visited inshore reefs. In the Gulf, artificial reefs hold lots of lionfish, but lobsters may be hit-or-miss. Best times to harvest both are dusk and dawn.
— While spearing lionfish is legal, spearing lobster is not. Use your tickler stick, or a lasso-like ‘bugger’, net and catch bag to take lobster. The most efficient way to take lionfish is with a three-pronged pole spear. Nail the fish in the body, then pin it to the sand while you use kitchen shears or ‘sea snips’ to cut off the spines. Most, but not all, are venomous, so go ahead and cut them all off for good measure. Wear puncture-proof gloves.
–If you don’t want to take the time to cut off lionfish spines underwater, then bring a ZooKeeper catch bag. Available at dive shops, it’s made of durable PVC and has a one-way chute that allows you to insert the speared lionfish, then pull out the spear. Do not store an un-snipped lionfish in a mesh catch bag; even dead, the spines are venomous.
–If you do get stung, soak the affected area in hot but not scalding water for 30 to 90 minutes and seek medical attention. No one has died of a lionfish sting, but pain and swelling can be severe.
–Check regulations for the area where you will be diving. For example, some areas of the Keys prohibit spear fishing–even for lionfish unless you have a special permit. Mini-season lobster bag limits in the Keys and Biscayne National Park are six per person per day; the limit is 12 elsewhere. That means you can take seven or 13 if you produce proof you harvested ten or more lionfish.
–Looking for tasty lionfish recipes? Check out “The Lionfish Cookbook” available at dive shops and at reef.org.