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Lionfish Hunting

L. Scott Harrell Hunting LionfishIn general, recreational lionfish hunters hunt for a few reasons:

  1. They enjoy the thrill of the sport of lionfish hunting.
  2. They love to eat lionfish or
  3. 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. If you love to travel and also maximize travel rewards through credit card offers, points, and airline miles check out The Point Pirate for great information on maximizing rewards on dive vacations.

Equipment Used to Hunt Lionfish – Lionfish Hunting Gear

Lionfish Hunting with ZooKeeper Prototype and Pole Spear

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.)


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.

Lionfish Hunting with a ZooKeeperCatch 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.

Lionfish Hunting Holding BagCatch 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.


Hex Armor Lionfish Hunting GlovesAdditional 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.

Lionfish Hunting Trauma ShearsMany 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

For opportunities to learn hands on lionfish hunting techniques contact the non-profit group to find out when and where their next lionfish hunting course is conducted.

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.

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 (20)

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  1. Kay Wilson says:

    1. First Lionfish hunt? Go with someone in the know.
    2. Failure to prepare is to prepare to fail, make sure you take everything you may need, write a check list and check you have everything before you leave the dock.
    3.Despite advertising claims, there is no such thing as a Lionfish sting proof glove that can be worn underwater, so do your utmost to avoid being stung. (I hunt with a custom made hard sided catch can and two spears, one long, one short, if a fish gets frisky after being shot I can subdue it with the spare spear).
    4. Take a torch / dive light, Lionfish like to hide in dark places, especially if you take a shot and miss, or wing it. (short spear comes in handy in tight spaces).
    5. Practice shooting with your pole spear top side. I use a cardboard box. If you miss Lionfish under water they will be a lot harder to try and hit the next time. They remember, and they warn their friends!

  2. Andrew C. Van Ronzelen says:

    -Go in pairs with one person hunting, the other holding the zookeeper.
    -Use a 3-6 pronged ELF tool.
    -Carry a good-sized, well-tipped dive knife to cut the head off and ensure death.
    -Be aware of surrounding wildlife to not be spooked/attacked when hunting.
    -GET CERTIFIED! Rob Verschoor at Buddy Dive Bonaire is awesome!!! Plus, it counts towards your Master Diver Cert.
    -Dive with Nitrox & a 108 tank so you can stay down longer & get right back in the water afterwards
    -Dont take a camera. They get in the way and break your concentration.
    -Remember the 4 Fundamentals of Marksmanship (U.S. Army), they work!
    -KILL KILL KILL!! Its not often a diver is allowed to do so, so take this opportunity to destroy as many of these little bastards as possible!!

  3. lina says:

    Those killing lion fish are doing a very important job to protect the environment. I first became aware of the the issue on the a travel Channel.

    More people need to be be aware if less publicized environmental concerns we need to spread the word.

    I have breathing issues but so I can’t personally participate in the endeavor to eradicate or minimize the destruction of these fish.

    Please spread the word to wealthy donors, Andrew Zimmerman. I am living in poverty but I will speak out.


    Evelyn Paredes Palder

  4. Stupid people doing stupid things get stung. If you have a lionfish already on your spear, don’t try and shoot its buddy with the same spear. Also, always check between your prongs as I have seen so many people give a lionfish a hair cut and before they think, they reload and that spine gets them right in the hand. Finally, you have a three foot spear and a two foot arm, your other hand doesn’t need to come close to the speared fish while holding a four inch knife, no sympathy deserved for your injury.

  5. Jerry Wylie says:

    I wrap my spear with black tape to cover the yellow shaft, on the theory that LF are learning to avoid yellow and morays are associating it with food and becoming more aggressive. I may also ditch my yellow fins, or at least stop using them to remove LF from my spear. A friend recently got a spine pushed entirely through the flipper part of his fin doing this. A 12″ dandelion weeder is handy way to kill & remove fish from the spear.

  6. Paul Schubert says:

    Since there is some research that is indicating about 25% of the lionfish off of Florida may test positive for ciguatoxin why would you want to bring any back. Why not just kill them and leave the remains for the other sea creatures to clean up. Poetic justice I suppose. My point is that it may be expeditious to kill as many as possible without taking any more time than is necessary?

    • You really need to cite your facts when making absurd assertions like this. I’ve searched for credible information now for about 6 hours now and cannot find numbers ANYWHERE near that close. All less than a 1% and ZERO instances of CFP caused by consuming lionfish in Florida.

  7. paul schubert says:

    I admit my naivete to the entire subject beyond reading the easily available literature and I know there may be false markers because of Lionfish venom. (see the study I referenced below) I am asking a question of those who no doubt know more on the subject. I have been a diver for 40 years and have a love of the oceans.

    I will repose my question? Given the threat these fish are to the entire ecosystem and even if the creatures are perfectly fine to eat, are there not quicker ways to kill more of them so you could use the limited time underwater to dispatch them rather than dispatch and collect them? Is there a reason to collect them other than to eat them? Does leaving their carcasses potentially cause any harm?

    • ffelix says:

      Old thread, but since there’s no answer…I gather than feeding the lionfish to other fish makes them aggressive toward divers.

  8. Buck Class says:

    Would you try to harvest Lionfish with a device other than a Spear. I’m interested in trying to harvest LF in areas where spearfishing is normally not allowed (State Parks and smaller jetties), but I certainly don’t want to risk getting stung if using a net of similar device is ill advised.

  9. Jon Stenstrom says:

    This is awesome! Thanks for sharing. Lionfish are doing so much damage to the environment. We need to get a bunch more people inspired to get in the water and pop them off with pole spears!

  10. James Mc says:

    Just got certified but Guiermo at Buddy Dive in Bonaire. Best speciality course I have ever had. Filled with info and even hit my first LF. Fully recommend Buddy Dive as you get to borrow ELFs & zookeeper when going off their dock, boat or using a dive master. So far at 11 in 3 dives and won’t stop. #NoMercy

  11. Zach says:

    Zach, dive instructor
    Take your time, shoot 2 centemiters behind the eye. Soft but bony area. Spear penetrates and sticks best if you shoot here. Also hunt with 2 SPEARS shoot with primary, hold them down with secondary, then kebob them on the secondary. You can fit 6 good sized lions on the secondary before having to bag them
    Equipment tips
    Tape you spear shaft with black electrical tape, like a hockey stick. Lions that have been shot at before remember the yellow on the spear.
    Mask with reflective lens. Lionfish feel intimidated when looked at into their eyes. With reflective mask they can’t see your eyes.
    Lastly they are spooked by bubbles from exhales
    Approach technique
    Load spear, Inhale, slowly aproach, aim, shoot, exhale, kebob
    Happy hunting

  12. Dennis Hasselberg says:

    Is there a list of areas in the Caribbean/Gulf of Mexico where these delicious nuisance fish are causing the most serious problems?

  13. Phyllis says:

    Just got PADI certified as LF Hunter through Toucan Dive Center, Beach Plaza in Bonaire. Chantelle was amazing instructor-knowledgeable, professional, & enthusiastic. First time out came back with eight which restaurant cooked up ——so good. Bought a spear today and looking forward to getting back there in a few months.

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