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Lionfish Facts: The 10 Most Common Lionfish Myths Busted!

February 6, 2013 51 Comments
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Questions and Myths About LionfishIt’s not surprising that for as many correct lionfish facts and information sources that are accumulating about the non-native lionfish problem in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, that we also run across an equal amount of misinformation, incorrect facts about lionfish and misperceptions being perpetuated as well. We’ve reached out to fellow hunters, educators, scientists and conservationists to find out what myths they believed were most prevalent in an effort to finally set the record straight. Education is a cornerstone of conservation.

1.  Lionfish carry a deadly poison in their spines.

Lionfish are not poisonous, they are venomous. The difference between poison and venom is the method of delivery. Venom must be injected into the bloodstream to cause injury, such as through a sharp spine or fang, but is harmless if drunk or eaten. Poison has to be ingested or absorbed to be harmful; lionfish carry no poison in the edible meat of the fish.

The venom found in the needle-sharp dorsal, pelvic and anal fins of a lionfish is NOT deadly to an otherwise healthy human being, though envenomation WILL cause an immense amount of localized pain, swelling and, in some instances, blistering and infection if not treated properly. It is possible for some people to have an allergic reaction to the venom, which comes with a host of potentially deadly complications resulting from anaphylactic shock, which could also be caused by any other serious allergy to bee stings or eating shellfish.

Lionfish fact: Lionfish venom is a protein-based, neuromuscular toxin that can be denatured when cooked over 350 degrees for  just a short period of time. Heat breaks the proteins down, which is why soaking the affected area in very hot water is also an effective first aid treatment for lionfish stings.

Note, however, cooking lionfish is NOT required. They are NOT poisonous to eat and if you did consume the venom from the spines, nothing is likely to happen.

2.  Lionfish can become very aggressive and charge with their spines.

There is no evidence to support the assertion that lionfish are aggressive towards divers or human beings whatsoever. First, I’ve never seen a lionfish become aggressive towards a diver. Normally they just sit there fat, dumb and happy until I put a spear into them. Those that see divers and go into hiding have probably had an injurious encounter with a hunter in the past through through which it lived and learned to avoid divers. Lionfish do use their spines as a defensive mechanism to keep from being eaten and tend to posture themselves when threatened or resting so that they present as many of these spines towards a potential threat as possible. There has been a great deal of video taken of lionfish fighting with one another and they do not “attack” or go on offensive with their spines.

Lionfish fact: Hunters typically get stung by live lionfish when it has been speared and the injured or dying fish is shaking violently to get off of the spear tip. Most lionfish hunters use spears that are less than a meter or 3 feet in length which puts a thrashing fish with dozens of dangerous spines perilously close to the body (or occasionally other divers), especially if it manages to get off of the spear and the fish is blindly trying to get to cover!

3.  Lionfish is poisonous or dangerous to eat.

Eating Lionfish Won't Kill You Like Fugu (Puffer fish)Healthy lionfish are NOT poisonous or dangerous to eat. Unlike the puffer fish (fugu) death is NOT likely from eating a lionfish that has been improperly butchered or prepared. Lionfish meat contains no poisonous toxins and is no different than grouper, snapper, wahoo, triggerfish, etc. Thousands of anglers and spearfishermen kill, fillet and eat lionfish without consequence. Of course, the lionfish should be handled correctly to prevent injury from the lionfish’s many venomous spines until they can be removed or the venom rendered inert.

Lionfish Fact: Fresh lionfish can be eaten raw, in ceviche (cooked in citric acid) or cooked any number of ways.

Like all seafood, there is an exception to the above and we would be less than honest if we did not point out one area of concern as it relates to the safety of consuming lionfish: There are areas in the eastern islands of the Caribbean Sea that are considered “hot spots” for ciguatera fish poisoning and over 400 different fish species are known to carry ciguatoxin that can cause ciguatera. It has been documented through scientific study that lionfish can carry the ciguatera toxin, too, thus making them potentially unsafe to eat IN THOSE SPECIFIC GEOGRAPHIC AREAS of concern. It should be noted that there is not a single documented or suspected case in which a person has contracted ciguatera from eating lionfish. However, while the chances are very low, we feel that any risk of death or serious disease is too much. If you are vacationing on an island where ciguatera is a known risk, you are probably already aware of this danger.

Ever wondered what lionfish tastes like? They’re DELICIOUS!

4.  Lionfish are too small and too bony to eat.

Lionfish can grow to sizes beyond 19 inches or 3 pounds and come in all sizes in between; they aren’t really boney at all. If you do bring up a fish that’s just a bit too small to serve as a whole fillet you can put them into a ceviche, carpaccio, eat them raw (sashimi or sushi) or fry up some fish nuggets; there are plenty of things you can do with small fillets!

Of course, if the DEAD lionfish is not worth the hassle of handling or preparing, you can always leave the fish floating or sinking to the bottom. Numerous fish will find them and eat them and it can be fun to watch from a distance!

REMEMBER: NEVER NEVER NEVER feed a lionfish to a predator
from the end of your spear.

Those that do so are encouraging dangerous behavior by training potentially aggressive predators to focus on the point of a spear that is usually only about 3 feet long. You can seriously injure unsuspecting hunters that dive in the area long after this behavior is introduced.

Here is an account of a story in Belize from our Facebook page:

“I had the craziest thing happen to me today on Half Moon Wall after diving the Blue Hole in Belize today… The moray eels, barracuda, groupers and snappers all got VERY, VERY aggressive when I speared lionfish and really fought with each other in the middle of an otherwise inexperienced group of divers. Teeth were everywhere!

The third lionfish I completely stoned but was blind-sided by a 5 or 6 foot barracuda from behind that came, maybe, 1 foot from my head, going at least 20 miles an hour, and tore into the fish at the end of my spear so hard that it ended up taking the entire sling with it. There was no saving the spear. The 4 other lionfish I saw on the rest of the dive gave me the middle finger and, I swear, I heard them laughing at me. When I was talking with the other divemasters on the way back, several of them showed me some serious scars they had all received from the moray eels and barracudas trying to get at the lionfish they had speared and remarked that they were surprised that the sharks didn’t show up, too.

My thoughts: THERE IS NO REASON WHATSOEVER TO BE FEEDING LIONFISH TO ANYTHING ELSE AT THE END OF A SLING OR SPEAR. NONE. THIS CREATES DANGEROUS BEHAVIOR and there is no reason to believe that it is creating predators – just aggressive, opportunistic feeders.”

5.  A Lionfish’s poisonous spines make them inedible to other predatory fish.

I watch snapper, grouper, sharks, triggerfish, moray eels and barracuda eat lionfish all of the time – some in one gulp while others chew them up. I cannot tell you how many times I read this and it is simply not true; it would seem that the reason these predators are not regularly eating lionfish is not due to the venom (not poison) but because they do not recognize healthy lionfish as prey… however, they all recognize an easy meal!

6.  Predators, like grouper, are learning to eat lionfish.

There is ZERO evidence that 1. ANY predators, not just sharks, are hunting and eating healthy and uninjured lionfish without some sort of other stimulus or intervention other than hunger and 2. Potential predators, sharks, groupers, snapper, eels, etc., DO NOT teach other predators or their young to consume lionfish, so any behavior that is learned is relatively short-lived.

Yes, we can get the predators excited by our presence – which animal doesn’t like a free and easy meal? While living and diving in Cozumel, Mexico, I regularly had mutton snapper bird-dogging lionfish for me. They’d find them and point them out but would not get any closer to the lionfish until I speared them. If fish wasn’t large enough to eat, I’d leave the dead or injured lionfish in the water column, away from the safety of the reef, and the snapper would compete with the triggerfish, barracudas and odd grouper for them.

This is NOT predation; this is an underwater entitlement program.

Thinking that the potential predators can be trained is an absolute myth perpetuated by the pretty pictures and the various videos we see of groupers, sharks and snapper eating lionfish. Pictures like this are a red herring not backed up by any science and, I think, causes more harm than good to the general population’s understanding of the truth. Until we are opening up bellies and seeing a gut full of healthy uninjured lionfish on a recurring basis we cannot believe that it is happening. This type of reporting is bad for our conservation efforts because it gives lay people hope that sharks, snappers and groupers are coming to the reef’s and local fisheries’ rescue. They are not. Evolutionary behavioral changes can take thousands, tens of thousands and sometimes, much longer. Some scientist think that we have MAYBE 20 years to find some sort of better solution other than sending divers after them with spears, though it has been found both effective of controlling the lionfish population and beneficial for the rebound of local fish populations when efforts are concentrated in targeted key areas; Cozumel’s Marine Park, is a shining example of just that.

Perhaps the better use of the fish we are feeding to other fish is to bring them to shore and feed them to the local population, thereby alleviating hunger AND teaching them that lionfish are great to eat and better for their fisheries than poaching or decimating the grouper and snapper populations.

[[Author’s note (August 5, 2013)… After starting to see photographic evidence of lionfish in grouper and JUST having had a personal conversation with a local spearfisherman in Aruba in which told me that he watched a black grouper hunt and eat an otherwise healthy and unbothered lionfish, I’m starting to believe that there is some truth here. Grouper MAY be eating more lionfish than we thought – though one recent study found that native fish species are having almost no effect on the total lionfish population. In other words, the findings seem to indicate that they are not eating enough lionfish to really make a difference.]]

Lionfish Hunting Equipment

7.  Lionfish are found in nature and not causing any real harm.

Lionfish are causing so much harm that they may actually cause the complete collapse of many fisheries and reefs. This is probably not the right article to address this patently wrong and misleading statement, but I’ll try to summarize it the best I can. We know, and it is scientifically proven, exactly how BAD lionfish are for the underwater environment in the Western Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

The Lionfish Challenge - Let's Try and Stop Them

To make this very simple: Lionfish are a non-native, invasive species without predator. A single female can lay up to 2 million eggs, which are then dispersed far and wide by ocean currents. They eat almost EVERYTHING in the water that they can get their large mouths around. In fact, they regularly eat fish that are 1/3 their size and their stomachs can expand up to 30 times its normal volume. Using hunting tactics that native fish populations have not evolved to recognize or avoid, lionfish glut themselves with as many fish as they can capture in a single feeding. They are known to eat small schools of up to twenty reef dwelling fish at a time (one scientist noted over 60 prey in one lionfish stomach). Furthermore, studies have proven that one lionfish can reduce the number of all species of fish that it is able to consume by up to 80% within just 5 weeks of establishing its range.

The fish (and lobster, crab and shrimp) that lionfish voraciously and indiscriminately consume all play vital roles in the ecosystem:

  • some creatures keep the reef healthy by clearing it of algae and other particulate that would otherwise smother and kill the coral;
  • some creatures keep other fish clean of debris, parasites and disease;
  • other fish use the reef structure as protection until they become large enough to survive in the open ocean and are consequently usually the most commercially important species of fish.

When populations of these native fish are decimated:

  • Reefs, which are important for ocean health, global health and human health, die.
  • Fish die due to the spread of disease and loss of habitat.
  • Fisherman, families and communities who rely upon harvesting native fish, go broke and go hungry.
  • Tourist-related businesses (and countries) that rely upon reefs and biodiversity as a draw, suffer enormously.
  • Populations of people that rely heavily upon a seafood diet suffer due to lower yields, higher prices and greater pressure on other food supplies. 

8.  Conservation efforts are not having any effect. You’ll never eradicate lionfish completely.

It is true that lionfish are here to stay and we’ll never get rid of them all, huge populations of lionfish are well outside of our reach, but as our friends from the Caribbean Oceanic Restoration and Education Foundation (CORE) like to say, “Trash is also a problem but it’s not like you are going to do nothing about it.“ Trash will continue to accumulate but quality of life significantly improves when it is hauled away and managed properly. The lionfish problem is just like that. Regardless of just how bad the situation sometimes looks, we must NOT GIVE UP!

Lionfish fact: Scientific studies PROVE that where lionfish culls are concentrated and maintained, native fish species will return and rebound in a relatively short amount of time. We MAKE A DIFFERENCE. YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE, TOO. KILL LIONFISH (whether you eat them or not)!

9.  Lionfish are beautiful and killing them is cruel. We should leave them alone and let nature take its course.

Yes, lionfish are some of the most beautiful fish in all of the oceans but nature doesn’t have enough time to run its course; evolution can take tens of thousand or millions of years to make the necessary adjustments we need in our lifetimes. If you cannot wrap your brain around why lionfish are a threat to the existence of entire populations of human beings, then I suppose I’m not going to change your opinion. Yes, killing sucks and it is an unfortunate set of circumstances that we cannot herd these lionfish into underwater internment camps where they are safely contained until they can be exported, alive and uninjured, back to their native homeland in the Indo-Pacific. But we can’t. Adopting them into loving homes with beautiful aquariums where they can be happy and healthy isn’t going to work either.

If leaving them in waters, where they are non-native, is clearly not an option, then they must be removed – just like a single weed that threatens an entire garden must be plucked from the earth. They’re fish and when we take them out of the water they die – it just works that way. The only practical method to remove lionfish from the water is by spearing them; at least this way they tend to die faster and remain in a good enough condition so that they can be eaten.

So… get over it.

10.  I’m not a diver or I don’t live in a place affected by lionfish, so I cannot be of any help.

EVERYONE CAN HELP MANAGE THE LIONFISH POPULATION!!! There are many things you can (and should) do:

  1. Spread the word!
  2. Share educational lionfish-related posts from reputable sources via your social networks. (Share this post now before you forget!)
  3. DON’T promote or applaud dangerous lionfish-related behavior (like feeding lionfish to potentially dangerous predators from the end of a spear).
  4. Promote the consumption of lionfish; eat it, ask for lionfish at your favorite seafood restaurant (especially when it is not on the menu) and suggest it to your friends!
  5. Volunteer to help do anything at a lionfish derby.
  6. Donate to organizations that promote lionfish management and conservation; scuba equipment, lionfish hunting gear, fuel for boats and air compressors aren’t exactly inexpensive!

Most importantly, please don’t turn a blind eye to the lionfish problem.
It affects us all!

We need to educate entire populations, correct misinformation that is being perpetuated and promote lionfish as a desirable and sustainable source of seafood that cannot possibly be over-fished or bad for the environment. Yes, it seems contrary to typical conservation ideals, but over-fishing or crashing the lionfish population would be a good thing. Whether you like to eat fish or not, we are all affected by the health of our reef systems.

Filed in: Education • Tags: , , ,

About the Author:

L. Scott Harrell is the co-founder of the World Lionfish Hunters Association. He now owns a scuba diving marketing consultancy in Cozumel, Mexico and offers expert PADI scuba instruction and private divemaster services. You can hunt lionfish in Cozumel, too!

Comments (51)

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  1. Jerry C Ligon says:

    Correction: Pectorals DO NOT CONTAIN spines. Second Paragraph to # 1 above: “The venom found in the needle-sharp dorsal, pectoral and anal fins of a lionfish . . .”

  2. Stephanie Wallwork says:

    Hi Scott

    Love what you are doing but need to talk about point 6 above – we HAVE witnessed sharks going after healthy lionfish and no we were not spearing nor was there any spears in the water – the shark was not sucessful but it definately tried…

    • juicy says:

      I have witnessed green morays and queen triggers attack, catch and consume lionfish that were not speared on the island of utila

  3. You are SO RIGHT, Jerry! Thank you very much for bringing that error to my attention. I meant to write pelvic and NOT pectoral fin and has been corrected. “Warts and all.”

    Stephanie: Where did you witness this and when? While I am EXTREMELY happy to hear of this possibility, I am with the scientists on this one… when we start seeing gut-fulls of uninjured lionfish in sharks, I’ll start believing they are honest-to-God predators. I am a bit skeptical simply because lionfish remain so close to the safety of reef and structure that it is unlikely that they can be ambushed by most sharks – but I do remain hopeful and open-minded!

    -Scott

    • john says:

      Are predators eating lionfish?

      Scott,
      It appears that grouper in the Gulf of Mexico have skipped the normal evolutionary process and have figured out how to eat the spiny suckers on their own!

        • That was some of the best news I’ve read in a long time! I hope that scientific study bears it out that the Goliath groupers are in fact the cause of the lower lionfish populations in those areas where the grouper is thriving. I am an eternal optimist but I am still waiting for scientists to find gut-fulls of dead (but otherwise uninjured lionfish) in a predator’s stomach before really buying into it.

          • Sam Wilson says:

            But aren’t “Goliath” Groupers an Invasive species eating all the reef fish a problem on their own??? They are protected by the US Gov like Manatees Normally called “Jewfish”, they grow very large.400+ lbs… and suck up other grouper and anything that gets near them…

          • Harry Glenn says:

            Now Goliath Grouper are not invasive. But they are getting the blame for the Lionfish problem. Lionfish are smaller and as stated eat everything. They fed on frye in the millions that a grouper could never hope to reach. But the grouper feed on Lionfish as they grow and have less area to hide in. At least in U.S. waters they are native and there is much video evidence and research showing their place in the food chain.

  4. I’ll be in St Croix all next week shooting the little varmints.

  5. Scott, I have been working on a Lionfish documentary for quite some time, and I agree with almost all of your assertions. This was a well-done article, and I would like to ask permission to reference parts of it. Like you, I am tired of hearing exceedingly bad information being touted as gospel truth.

  6. Paul, no problem whatsoever. Thank you for whatever credit back to the WLHA you see fit to give as well. I look forward to seeing your documentary one day soon! If you have a difference of opinion on points of my article or something you’d like to add, please let me know. I don’t know everything and see this as a living document that can always use refinement or updating.

  7. Robert Gagne says:

    Excellent article Scott, thank you. So I routinely read, and hear from other divers, that these are non-native fish, so how about a little history? Can you tell us how non-native fish ended up where they don’t belong? I should think the common thought would be a pet was let go and somehow found purchase in our part of the ocean (Florida for me). Where are they native?

    Robert

    • tkcharlie says:

      There are a few ways they have arrived in various areas. Some thoughts are pets being released in the ocean. They are native to the Indo Pacific. The most reasonable theory to their invasion is when the large tankers (container ships, Cargo Vessels, Oil Tankers ect.) these boats actually pump thousands of gallons of water into the boat at port to ballast the boat (sink it into the water a bit) while sucking water into the ships holding tanks, lionfish can get sucked up along with the water. Then when the boat pulls into the various ports around the world (obviously there are some much more frequently visited than others ie. Florida and the Caribbean islands), they pump the water out into the local waters of that port. The lionfish are then introduced to the new area. Lionfish have been found well into the ICW in Florida nearly all the way to Lake Okeechobee. It is a very serious problem, and thanks to people like Scott, more information is getting out there to help battle this invasion. Oh ya, and they do taste great much like hogfish. I kill everyone I see and eat everyone worth filleting. I have found the best way to catch them without getting stuck, is to bring a pair of shears or scissors down with me and just cut off all of their fins while theyre still immobilized on the paralizer tip of my pole spear. Good luck! Eat a lion fish

  8. Marge Lawson says:

    I’ve witnessed Yellowtail Snappers eat healthy, uninjured, small lionfish on two different occasions. Both times I was maneuvering aquarium nets into place to capture a small lionfish, and a Yellowtail Snapper got impatient and darted in and ate the lionfish.

    I totally agree we shouldn’t be offering dead lionfish to morays or other fish. Unfortunately, so many of the Yellowtail Snappers have come to associate us hunters with an easy meal that they follow us on almost every dive, and the instant we shoot a lionfish, a snapper darts in and grabs it off the spear. They’ve become a real nuisance.

    You might be interested to hear that my brother-in-law saw a lionfish off the southern Florida coast in the 1970’s. The divemaster told him that he had seen lionfish there before, but they didn’t seem to survive the winters.

  9. Jae says:

    Hello Scott,

    I am interested in finding a source to import Lion Fish meat into Oregon in order to gain more acceptance in restaurants. Do you, your colleagues or your readers have any information for a good source for import?

    Thank you,
    Jae
    Oregon

    • Hi Jae,

      I’d first try Traditional Fisheries – they can be found at http://www.traditionalfisheries.com/. You can also get in touch with the people at Sea to Table at http://sea2table.com/

      This would be a very solid start. If that doesn’t work, I also have personal contacts in Mexico that might pan out, but it would be a bit more complicated as they are not as well set up as these two other established providers.

      Best of luck and thanks for supporting the cause!

      Scott Harrell, Executive Director
      World Lionfish Hunters Association

    • terry says:

      hey jae. I live in the caribbean and catch hundreds of lionfish. I would be happy to supply you any amount needed. Let me know if you are interested

  10. I made the following change to the article above…

    [[Editor’s note (August 5, 2013)… After starting to see photographic evidence of lionfish in grouper and JUST having had a personal conversation with a local spearfisherman in Aruba in which told me that he watched a black grouper hunt and eat an otherwise healthy and unbothered lionfish, I’m starting to believe that there is some truth here. Grouper MAY be eating more lionfish than we thought – though one recent study found that native fish species are having almost no effect on the total lionfish population. In other words, the findings seem to indicate that they are not eating enough lionfish to really make a difference.]]

    The study I cited can be found here: http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0068259

  11. Phil Karp says:

    Hey Scott

    I recently returned home from Belize where I spent two weeks as a volunteer, working with an NGO (ReefCI)that is focused on coral reef ecosystem conservation. One of their projects is aimed at lionfish control. They spear as many lionfish as possible on every dive and are promoting lionfish to local restaurants. They are also dissecting 20 lionfish per week (sample from the roughly 200 they spear each week) and are providing data on size, sex, and stomach content to the Belize Fisheries Department.

    As you undoubtably are aware, one of the challenges in trying to promote lionfish as a commercial fishery is the difficulty of catching them (spearing as opposed to nets or lines). Unless the economic return to fisherman can be increased, they prefer to focus on other species which they can catch using traditional methods.

    While we were dissecting lionfish one day last week, I was thinking about the problem of how to incentivize fisherman to go after them. I was looking at the dissected fish carcasses, particularly at the spines, and for some reason a vision of porcupine quill jewelry popped into my head. I asked the project marine biologist whether anyone had thought about using the lionfish spines in some way. He wasn’t aware of any such use, but thought it to be a very interesting ideas. He and I collected and cleaned and dried a couple hundred spines, which ReefCI is going to give to some local artisans to see if they might be able to do something with them. I provided photos ( thanks to Google) of a number of porcupine jewelry items. I personally spoke to one artisan (from a Mayan community) who is already making jewelry from shells and fish bones. He was really excited about the lionfish spine idea.

    Anyway, I’m reaching out to the Lionfish Hunters community to ask whether anyone is aware of any other initiatives to use lionfish spines for jewelry or other purpose. If yes, I’d really like to learn more.

    Phil Karp
    Chevy Chase, Maryland

  12. Phil Karp says:

    Thanks Scott

    I did see the site. It seems that Maria is using the tails rather than spines. Any idea why?

  13. Paul Kenyon says:

    Hi Scott,
    I and a friend live in the Dominican Republic. I’m a Peace Corps volunteer. I’ve got my diving certs (second time, here, a year ago) but we both want to hunt lion fish on the reefs here without scuba… using just mask and snorkel. In the shallow reefs during my diving cert work we saw many lion fish. They should be easy to get to without gear. But I imagine there are other practical considerations I have to consider.

    What are your recommendations about this? We have lion tamers coming and I’m looking for a pole with a paralizer tip. I’ve been researching this and your site (10 myths) has been the best information I’ve found that actually informs usefully about the hazards and realities of hunting lion fish. Thanks for putting together that website.
    I’d like to know more about how the venom is delivered, too. Are the spines pulsed at contact? I think they’re not projected. I think using scissors or shears is the best way to remove the spines. how much of the spine has to be removed to make the fish safe to handle?
    Anything else I’ve forgotten to ask?
    This is my second set of diving certifications. Long ago (old equipment) I dove on the Great Barrier Reef. I had one tank. After I used I had the rest of the afternoon on the diveboat or…so I went in with the mask and snorkle. I got far more time on the reef than any of the other divers that day because I was diving without the tank. it was all shallow water….dowen to about 15 feet, of course, but that’s where the colors are the best.

    I was thinking of using a buoyancy compensator for safety and convenience while handling the fish. We’d have a dive marker/float to which we’ll hang net bags to keep the fish in. I imagine diving, finding a fish, rising for air going back down to spear it, coming up and disarming the fish on the surface then putting it in the bag. We might get enough for dinner this way. There were lots of lion fish when i was training. The reef is a way out but with mask snorkle and flippers and a relaxed attitude, it should be a fine afternoon. I’m planning on protecting myself from sunburn. I’ll wear rashguard top long sleeve with gloves to protect my hands.

    What else need I consider?

    As a PCV I don’t have the money to dive with SCUBA. That’s just the unfortunate fact of being in the Peace Corps.
    All safety information and links you can provide are greatly appreciated. We’d like to go diving like this, if it’s practical and safe, often.

    Thanks,

    Best,

    Paul

    • Hi Paul,

      First what I think you are planning to do, freediving to hunt lionfish, is awesome and I appreciate the fact that you and your partner will be joining the fight soon.

      About your choice in spears: Personally, I would go with a pole spear; I’ve seen the videos of the lion tamer and think that my hands would be just way too close for comfort prior to shooting the lionfish. Additionally, I use a Zookeeper lionfish containment device or a prototype made from a five gallon water jug to safely store my catch during the dive and there really would be no practical way to transfer the lionfish from the lion tamer in through the funnel.

      Venom is delivered when a spine causes a puncture wound. The venom coats the spines underneath the fleshy outer skin. When the spines enters the skin the sheath is pushed back and venom enters the wound – sort of like tipping a dart or arrowhead with poison. The spines remain intact with the lionfish and are not projected.

      Many lionfish hunters who use catch nets or hooks to save lionfish during the dive do cut away the venomous spines in order to avoid personal injury. Since you are freediving, time underwater (air and NDL considerations) isn’t necessarily an issue; just be careful. I like to use the “trauma shears” that paramedics typically carry since they cut through the tough spines easier than kitchen scissors and my hand stays farther away from the spines during the process. Ideally you should cut the spines as close to the body as you are able. I start at the front and remove the dorsal spines along the back first, then remove the non-venomous pectoral fins to get them out of the way, then completely cut away each pelvic fin where one venomous spine is at the front, before finishing the job with the anal fin while minding the 3 small venomous spines at the leading edge.

      I always advocate the use of a flotation device at the surface while freediving for long periods.

      I cannot think of anything you might have forgotten at this point but have a look at the FAQ I posted yesterday, just in case. http://lionfish.co/lionfish-faq

      Be safe and HAVE FUN! Don’t hesitate to take photos of your catch and send them in to us or post them to our Facebook page.

      -Scott

      • Russell C. says:

        What about 3d artwork. The spines would be used to decorate a painting or picture of a lion fish for a wall or trophy?? I see stuff like this all the time in other areas.

  14. holloways says:

    I speared a few lionfish in the Bahamas and took their spines home for Martini Olive Spears. Although I have cleaned and dried the spines – I don’t know how long they are venomous. (That martini would pack quite a punch!). Anyway – do you know how long the venom is viable and how to remove the venom if necessary?

    • The venom is denatured quite quickly with a little bit of heat… I usually bake spines at 300(f) for 10 minutes.

      • Sean French says:

        Hi Scott. Fascinating reading for me with long standing interest in hazardous marine life. I’ve been picking up on the problem with lion fish in the Atlantic. As far as I know, this problem doesn’t seem to be prevalent in the Indian or Pacific region. We have them here in South Africa but not in such huge numbers. We have other fish stock problems but not related to LF at all. I’ve been diving for 29 yrs & well plugged into the dive industry for past 18 yrs as a DAN trainer and have not heard of the same phenomenon in the Indian Ocean. Is this hunting /eradication campaign only in the Atlantic region?

        • Hi Sean, Yes, lionfish are only considered invasive in the Western Atlantic Basin (W. Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico). There have been numerous reports in the last several months about pterois in the Mediterranean Sea, where they would also be considered an invasive.

  15. John Smith says:

    Could I make money hunting lionfish? What is the price they are going for if you hunt them ? I’m thinking of moving to Belize and hunting lionfish as my source of income, is this a reasonable idea?

  16. DrShaz says:

    Excellent post on myths! Will take this to use in my educational campaigns here in Belize. Thanks!

  17. Debbie Niskin says:

    #2 Lionfish not being aggressive to divers… I was diving off Ras Muhammed some years ago. One of the men in my dive group was a practical joker who loved teasing me. As I headed toward the beach to end my dive several very annoyed lion fish were blocking my way. He had harassed them as he passed to get out of the water and left the angry fish for me to deal with. They didn’t chase me though, just made me continue my dive out deeper and then up the beach to get out.

    I’m passing your article around my friends, thanks.

  18. John Watkins says:

    I am in Utila Honduras at the moment and never before in 30 years of diving, have I seen so few fish and so many lion fish! Although there are more than 12 dive operators here, I have not witnessed a single killing of a lion fish after numerous dives. The divemasters and instructors leave them alone. Hence no reef fish here in Utila to speak of. I have also not seen much fish for sale and no lion fish. The dive shops who depend on the reef should be encourAging the locals to fish and eat them, rather than decimate what’s left of the reef fish population.

  19. Faye says:

    Lionfish are an invasive species, Florida Keys has been seeing way too many. We are encouraging fish for lionfish and make them a delicacy. Some restaurants serve lionfish: Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen (Key Largo), The Fish House Encore (Key Largo), Key Largo Conch House (Key Largo) ,Chef Micheal’s (Islamorada), Lazy Days Restaurant (Islamorada), Ziggy and Mad Dog’s (Islamorada), Castaway Waterfront Restaurant & Sushi Bar (Marathon), Square Grouper(Cudjoe Key). So far, Key West Restaurants hasn’t caught up yet in the lionfish craze.
    Bon Appétit!

  20. debbie says:

    Why aren’t groupers and sharks who ingest lionfish affected by the venomous spines?

  21. jim says:

    Are there resections/prohibitons on kill and release of Lion Fish?

  22. lloyd says:

    any suggestions on how to catch lionfish w/rod & reel ?

  23. Nick Lakoff says:

    Dear Scott,

    I wanted to add my testimony that predators are starting to learn to eat healthy lionfish unassisted. I lived in Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras for 2 and a half years starting in February 2012 however my first visit there was in 2010 for 10 weeks to do my Divemaster course. The first sightings of Lionfish in Roatan were in 2009 and when I was there, they were everywhere. Not only that but the lionfish in its natural environnement in the Indo-Pacific is very territorial but it was typical for us to see 5, 6 even up to 7 or 8 individuals in the same coral patch. The numbers were actually pretty staggering. Every once in a while we would go on specific dives to cull our most popular dive sites and although its unscientific it seemed to us that this helped keep the numbers down. When I came back in 2012 one of the first things I noticed right away was that the numbers of lionfish had come down substantially. Some dives I wouldn’t see any at all but I did notice that the ones we spotted were deeper and deeper. Over my time in Roatan I did over a thousand dives and starting in 2014 I started observing large groupers stalking lionfish with more frequency. None of these times were any of the divers spearing for lionfish. Then for the first time on a dive to a dive site called Texas on the western tip of the island I observed a large Nassau Grouper persue a lionfish and proceed to swallow it hole. I was overjoyed as you could imagine however I didn’t have my camera to take video. I’ve observed groupers eating lionfish on several more occasions but never when I was filming. But I can tell you it is happening and very much as I had though it would over time since the lionfish have been reducing the number of other fish they have become a victim of their own success since their numbers turned them into an easy food source for the predators on this reef. Since most of the western part of the island is protected by the Roatan Marine Park there are many larger predators such as groupers that can easily eat lionfish and not be bothered by their venom.

    I can see this trend continuing in reefs where there are MPA’s letting nature bring back a measure of balance. There are videos that are starting to surface of just what I’ve described and I suspect there will be more in the future.

  24. Asher Wieder says:

    Dear scott
    Why are lionfish veomous and not poisonous because lionfish use venom as a defence mechanism but that is what poison is mostly used for?

    • Andy Lowe says:

      It’s considered ‘poison’ when it is ingested or eaten and sickens you. It’s ‘venom’ when it is injected, such as with the lionfish spines. The meat of the lionfish is perfectly safe and delicious to eat, so it is not poisonous.

  25. Ethan says:

    Hi, just recently finished a trip to Bahia Honda State Park in the Keys. My son pole speared a small lionfish. We cut off its head and tossed it back into the water. Got me wondering what is happening to spines of the dead fish and all the spines being snipped off underwater. Will these be washing up in areas where people might step on them?

    • Andy Lowe says:

      Hi Ethan, no, the venom in the spines loses its strength after a short time. Freshly clipped they can sting you, but by the time they washed ashore they would not be a problem.

  26. Please keep up your good work ! The governments of all the affected areas must be blind . Private interests can’t bear the brunt of this invasion alone . I live in south Florida , have fished ( recreational and commercial ) all my life and have watched the federal and state government drag their feet through every problem dealing with the ecology and the environment . Thirty years after the first sightings of lionfish in south florida , there are hardly enough fish left to make it worth going fishing except when migrating fish happen by ! Why not put a 5 dollar bounty on every lionfish ( and let the harvester keep it too ) that way more people could concentrate on catching them . also develop new gear to catch the small ones before they can spawn

  27. gordon badenoch says:

    After reading the other comments , I am happy to learn about the grouper eating the lionfish . Probably don’t have much else to eat ! Do the math guys .The lionfish spawn as often as every four days and the grouper spawn once and the lion fish eat the baby grouper and the baby everything else ! Nature isn’t going to solve this . I also notice that most of the comments showing any reduction in the lionfish populations are in a localized environment ( an island with a finite area that divers can see the changing conditions and also the affect of local programs to reduce populations ).What they don’t see is what is happening in the areas that the lionfish eggs drift to before they hatch ( 30 days ) . GET Government involved ! THANKS everyone !

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