Friday, 28 July 2017

The Other Day We Ate a Lion

About a week ago, I found myself hanging out with some friends from South Africa.  Being South African they naturally offered to take me lion hunting some day.  Of course, I readily accepted.  Just days later they dropped by in their dinghy and asked if I was serious about lion hunting - of course I was so I jumped in the dinghy with them and off we went.

"Wait just a minute!"  I hear you say.  "Ï thought you were in the Caribbean?  Do they have lions there?"

They do not.

The lions we were hunting were lionfish, an incredibly successful, invasive species in the Caribbean.  Lionfish are native to the Indian Ocean where their prey knows what they look like so they can be avoided, and there are predators who actively keep the population in control. Unfortunately, in the early 1990's, 10 lionfish originally meant to be sold to aquarium owners were released in southern Florida, since then these fish have multiplied and spread across the entire Caribbean and even to the Mediterranean Sea.  Lionfish are voracious predators eating juvenile fish of many species and impacting the reef eco-system.  Most Caribbean nations are actively working to eradicate this species.

Geared up in masks, snorkels and fins three of us set out to find some lionfish and come back with dinner.  We spent several hours free diving, peeking under rocks and coral ledges searching for fish.  Armed with a Hawaiian sling spear and holding my breath I made several spectacular shots at the lionfish as they hovered in front of me.  The first two fish I was stalking escaped unscathed, fleeing to the safety of deep cracks in the rocks after my second or third attempt to hit them.  Clearly spear fishing is harder than it looks.

I was persistent and eventually managed to spear two different fish while my friends brought back three.  A total of five fish about the size of a deck of cards was not going to make a full meal but we'd made an effort.  Regardless, we were pleasantly surprised at how difficult it was to find lionfish in the reef we were swimming on.  That meant the fish likely had not infested this area, or they were already picked over by locals or other divers.

After clipping the spines off the fish, they were gutted and filleted and put in the fridge for a future snack.  A few days after the hunt they received a tempura bath and we enjoyed the succulent white flesh of this invasive fish along with a glass of wine while the sun set in paradise.


Lionfish are undoubtedly one of the most beautiful reef fish we have seen so far, but they are incredibly harmful for the reefs in the Caribbean where they have no predators and are capable of eating all of the juvenile fish on the reef, wiping out a generation of fish that make up the reef eco-system.  Responsible governments and citizens are working to eradicate lionfish in the Caribbean.  Not all islands will allow you to fish without a permit or to use a spear gun unless part of an organized dive.  Please check local regulations before you go hunting so you can make an informed decision.  In our case, it seems we were not allowed to be hunting on our own, but these fish are harmful to the reef so it seems unlikely that local officials would have any cause to make trouble for us.

For more information on the invasive nature of lionfish please visit Sailors for the Sea here: or google the topic.

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