- They enjoy the thrill of the sport of lionfish hunting.
- They love to eat lionfish or
- They have a passion for doing their part to help the environment.
If you’re like most of us it is usually a combination of all three! Regardless of your reasons for wanting to hunt lionfish, there are some very important considerations you must take into account first:
Personal Safety While Hunting Lionfish
First, and foremost, you must be concerned with your own personal safety while lionfish hunting. Being underwater provides for a whole host of challenges and breathing is not an option for mere mortals. If you are scuba diving you must remember breathing gas supply (how much air/nitrox you have available), the MOD (max operating depth) of your breathing gas, NDL (no decompression limits) and remember to only dive to the limits of your training, experience, physical capabilities and diving conditions.
We see it happen very often where lionfish hunters, especially new hunters and divers, tend to lose focus on their training and self-awareness in pursuit of hunting lionfish! Just like the new underwater photographer, their focus becomes fixated on the target and they dive too deep, stay too long, lose buoyancy control, damage the environment around them in their pursuit and then wind up in very real trouble.
Beyond handling diving-related emergencies like decompression illness, exhaustion, CNS oxygen toxicity, etc., you must be thinking about first aid and treatment of injuries caused by marine animals, chief among them a lionfish envenomation from one of its venomous spines but there is also the potential of getting bitten by an overly aggressive moray eel, barracuda or shark that wants to eat one of your lionfish!
- Is there an emergency evacuation plan in place?
- Does the dive team have a clear set of signals to communicate in case of an emergency?
- Is a first aid kit available? Is it stocked correctly?
- Do you have fresh hot water available or a way to heat water quickly?
- Are instant heat packs available?
All of the standard safety rules of diving apply:
- Dive conservatively within the limits of your training, with a qualified buddy.
- Be physically fit for the challenge of lionfish hunting.
- Maintain your gear.
- Know your dive site and prevailing dive conditions or go with a local guide.
- Pay special consideration to your exit point.
- Keep a properly equipped first aid kit and emergency oxygen available.
- Have an Emergency Response Plan.
Here’s the bottom line: You are responsible for YOUR safety. Don’t be afraid to say “No.” if you are uncomfortable with the dive plan, location, conditions or circumstances.
Do No Damage to the Environment While Hunting Lionfish
This should go completely without saying. Most of us are hunting lionfish to help prevent the damage invasive lionfish are bringing to our local waters; the rule of first aid, “First, do no harm.” applies. Killing a lionfish is no excuse to harm other underwater creatures, structure and coral! If you cannot take a safe shot, leave the lionfish for another day. Lionfish live in one place for a very long time and will mostly likely be very close when you come back (if another “KILLA” doesn’t get it first).
Practice excellent buoyancy control and make it a point of pride. Stay off of the reef and keep your body parts, fins and your equipment from coming into contact with just about everything underwater, except for you and the lionfish, during your dive!
“Mind your fin tips and manage your damn buoyancy!!!” – Scott Harrell
Not damaging the underwater environment also means not disturbing the order of life, too – like feeding underwater predators the speared lionfish you do not want to keep.
We are discouraging divers from feeding dying and injured lionfish to the local predators from the tips of their spears. Divers who believe that they are somehow training potential predators to hunt lionfish by feeding them are severely mistaken. Instead, they are encouraging dangerous behavior by training potentially aggressive and dangerous 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 common lionfish myths 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.”
Quite frankly, there is no reason to feed lionfish to the local marine life at all, from the tip of a spear or leaving them dead at the bottom. Nothing good will come of training potentially dangerous creatures to associate divers with food. There are very good reasons why park rangers tell you “not to feed the bears.” Instead, take the lionfish out of the water and dispose of them safely and responsibly if you cannot find someone who will eat them or otherwise put the dead fish to good use.
Places Where You Can Go to Hunt Lionfish
We do not condone lionfish hunting in areas other than where lionfish are considered non-native and invasive. Presently, that includes in all waters of the Western Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea in the Western Hemisphere and in the Mediterranean Sea in the Eastern Hemisphere. When choosing a location to hunt it is obviously best to know that there are invasive lionfish present and have local knowledge of the dive site. However, it is also important to be aware that there may also be laws that:
- Prohibit spearfishing entirely or limits spearfishing to specific areas.
- Prohibit the possession of spears, slings, harpoons and other devices used to harvest lionfish.
- Prohibit lionfish hunting while on scuba.
- Require specific permits, licensing or training in order to harvest lionfish.
- Require specific tools and equipment to be used while harvesting lionfish.
We say, “Know before you go!” Check out our lionfish hunting-friendly list of dive operators or contact us if you have questions about areas that are not currently represented.
Equipment Used to Hunt Lionfish – Lionfish Hunting Gear
Did you know that we offer a large assortment of lionfish hunting gear and accessories? Click here to find a great assortment of lionfish hunting gear and lionfish related merchandise.
There are essentially three types of spears that lionfish hunters use to catch a lionfish: Spearguns, pole spears and Hawaiian slings.
A speargun is device designed to fire a tipped spearshaft at fish and are either powered by rubber band(s) or compressed air (pneumatic).
Pole spears consist of a long shaft with point at one end and an elastic loop at the other for propulsion. One very nice option is the “Foldspear,” which allows the entire pole spear to be broken down into short sections and holstered making it very convenient to carry.
Hawaiian slings consist of an elastic band attached to a tube, through which a spear is launched.
There are several other branded options on the market, like “Lionfish Slayers,” “Frappers” “AcuSpears” “SafeSpears” and “ELFs” (Eradicate Lion Fish Tool) however they are all basically designed based upon the Hawaiian sling principle of propelling a spear through a grip.
Choosing which type of spear you will use will depend entirely upon your hunting preference and local spearfishing regulations. Some lionfish hunters are unlucky enough to hunt in an area where they have to use hand-held catch nets! (That would suck.)
LIONFISH CONTAINMENT DEVICES
Once you’ve speared a fish, you should have someplace to safely store them throughout the remainder of your dive. For breath-hold divers that usually means storing them on a float or in boat at the surface between dives but for scuba divers this is not practical.
There are essentially three types of gear used to hold lionfish during the dive: containers, bags and spearshafts.
Catch Containers come in various shapes and sizes. There are a few commercially manufactured models such as the very popular ZooKeeper but some are “home built” from such materials as PVC pipe, recycled 5 gallon water jugs and plastic buckets. All usually have an opening feature that allows the lionfish to be pushed into the container and allow the spear to be removed without the lionfish escaping. They should also have a way for water to drain when surfacing after a dive but still keep the spines safely contained.
Many lionfish hunters prefer the the rigid containers because they do not allow any of the needle-sharp spines to accidentally puncture through the sides, a problem that some have had with several styles of bags.
Catch Bags come in a variety of shapes, materials and sizes as well. When choosing a bag style containment device look for a one way an opening that allows the lionfish to be inserted without having to remove it from the spear first and that then prevents the lionfish from escaping. Perhaps as importantly is find a bag made from puncture-proof or puncture-resistant material that will, in most cases, prevent a spine from poking through and becoming a hazard.
Lionfish Catch Bags are preferable because they usually offer much less drag in the water than a rigid container. Additionally, many can be folded up and stowed out of the way if not being used during a dive, which is an added convenience for sure!
When choosing either a rigid container or bag, also look for ease in safely emptying the device as well; many designs allow for the top to be easily screwed off and the lionfish dumped into an ice chest or bucket. My only real complaint about most devices is that the one-way insertion points are usually fashioned from a large plastic funnel. The plastic is rigid and has a tendency to break after a good deal of use or while stuffing a particularly large lionfish into a relatively small hole. Having injured lionfish escaping from your containment device is not a particularly pleasant experience.
Spearshafts. Lastly, some hunters prefer to carry a long metallic speargun shaft and carry the lionfish on it during the dive. They have a single tip with a device that prevents the lionfish from escaping and a stopper that prevents the lionfish from getting to close to the hunter’s hand or body. Using a spearshaft is the ultimate choice when it comes to reducing drag while swimming and it allows the hunter to very quickly dispatch the lionfish by pushing another spear through it. The downsides however are that the hunter has to set the shaft down before every new shot with the primary sling or spear. Other hunters have pointed out that predators may see the fish on the shaft and be more inclined to harass a diver looking for a free meal; bags and containers effective hide the lionfish.
Of course a lionfish hunter should ALWAYS carry a measuring device and camera with them in the event that they think that they may have set a new largest lionfish record for their area! Learn how to submit potential record-sized lionfish here.
MISCELLANEOUS SAFETY EQUIPMENT
Additional equipment to consider using while hunting or handling lionfish include puncture-resistant gloves and barbecue tongues when handling lionfish. You might consider carrying a knife long enough to safely dispatch a tough lionfish that may be on the end of your spear in danger of escaping due to a misplaced shot or fish that is just not dying quickly enough.
Many divers also carry a good pair of stainless steel shears in order to clip off the venomous spines either underwater or back at the surface. Trauma shears, the kind that paramedics use, make an excellent choice! The curved handles help keep hands away from the spines and they can cut through the toughest materials.
Learning How to Hunt Lionfish
It’s not practical to try and teach lionfish hunting through a website; learning to safely use a spear underwater and handle a potentially dangerous fish, while managing buoyancy and position requires practice and guidance. We strongly recommend taking a lionfish hunting course through a certified instructor. New lionfish hunters will be introduced to the following topics:
- History and Anatomy of the Invasive Lionfish
- Personal Safety and First Aid
- Environmental Concerns
- Equipment and Maintenance
- Hunting Techniques
- Local Regulations and Considerations
- Safe Lionfish Handling
- Preparing and Eating Lionfish
Hunters then practice using a spear underwater, drastically improve their aim and accuracy, while managing buoyancy and environmental awareness. The new hunter is then guided on a real lionfish hunt where he or she will learn to find lionfish and harvest them safely using appropriate methods. A certification card and certificate of completion will be issue by us after successfully managing the course and many hunters go home with lionfish fillets, too!
The entire course takes approximately 4 hours to complete depending on diving conditions and location. New hunters must be at least 14 years of age and certified open water (or equivalent) scuba divers if training on scuba. Freedivers (breath-hold diving) do not need scuba certification.
We are looking for scuba instructors and divemasters from all certification agencies to join our growing network of lionfish hunting instructors and lionfish safari guides. If you are interested in joining us as a diving professional, please get in touch with us through the Contact Page.
We’ve included the following videos as a demonstration of good diving and lionfish hunting practices. These videos are not intended to replace qualified instruction.
Lionfish Hunting Tips from the Pros
The following are a collection of tips provided to you by some real pros via our Facebook page:
- My best tip? A three prong with no barbs. – Andy Lowe
- Definitely no barbs. I filed mine off. Good way to get stung, getting them off a spear with barbs… and a containment unit. - Michael J. Brown
- I love my barbs and hate to see the lions flip back off the tips! We remove them with a knife through the head or a stringer through the body at the pectoral fins. No stings either way… Checking out a containment unit next month. – Sallye Martin
- Don’t get stung! LOL! – Cedric Taquin
- Watch your air, pay attention to your NDL. Diver Safety First! Be conscious of the environment. – Allie ElHage
- Line up your shot, exhale as you close distance and shoot! Hit them in the head. – Michael J. Brown
- Be extra vigilant watching for moray eels. If you see one anywhere near your target lionfish, don’t shoot… move well away from the moray and look for another lionfish to target. – Brent Rintoul
- Control your buoyancy!!! - Robje van den Heuvel
- If you miss your first shot, don’t worry… Go for the next lion! – Gabriel Lopez Dupuis
- Don’t hit living coral. - Deborah Christine Ellis
- Getting stuck isn’t as bad as you think… yeah it hurts but its not not gonna kill ya… if you do get stuck put your hand in HOT water asap… I mean HOT! The venom is protein based so you want to cook it out! – Garland Wall
- Check your water temperature with an uninjured finger or a thermometer. Yes, have I seen fingers literally COOKED. It’s a worse injury than the sting. - Sallye Martin
- Zookeeper!!!! - Jerry Moore
- Buy a Zookeeper for safety! – Rob Wilson
- Buy a commercial license and, as long as they are all head shots, I’ll buy them. Had 275lbs (only about 15 left). All head shots in the eyes no less. These guys know how to do it. – Brian Barber
- Stay calm, move slow and kill with a Zen like attitude. – Simon Walsh
- Zookeeper & use a short spear. - Berdi Boeve
- Slow down, don’t take a shot if you doubt the hit! Buoyancy! Buoyancy! Buoyancy! – Michael Scranton
- Kill as many as you can. – Brandon Toms
- Use a Zookeeper… duh. – Brandon Westcott
- If you are cutting the spines off under water, do it the same way every time. The moment you change things up is the time you will get stung. - Daryl McLaughlin
- Kill lionfish… not the reef. – Brandon Westcott
- Patience. Buoyancy control. Taking a clean shot at the fish not the reef. – Scott Turner
- Keep calm, pull back the spear enough and take a nice broadside shot. Take your time! – Brian Frey
- Slow down. Missed shots are usually rushed. - Greg Smith
- Be relaxed! And think how the lion will look on the grill. – Jesus Rosario
- Take no prisoners! – Spacely Sprocket
Do you have a lionfish hunting tip or advice you would like to add? Leave it in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.