Lionfish Hunting: A Sustainable Supper Adventure at Secret Bay

lionfish hunting

At Secret Bay we believe that having amazing wild experiences and caring for the environment go hand in hand. Our newest guest activity epitomises this. Visitors to Secret Bay can now join us on a unique marine adventure spearfishing for lionfish, and then learn how to prepare them into a delicious meal back at the beach.

WHY LIONFISH?

Lionfish are not native to Dominica. Originating in the Pacific and Indian oceans, the first lionfish in the Atlantic was reported in South Florida waters in 1985, and they were only documented as established in the early 2000s. Yet today they can be found across all of the Atlantic coastline from Massachusetts to Venezuela.

The trouble is, not only are they not local, they aren’t very nice to the locals either. In fact they are voracious eaters whose stomachs can expand to 30 times their normal size and who eat pretty well anything they can get their mouth round. Don’t worry, though, that doesn’t include humans, as they only grow to about 18 inches long!

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But it does include many different species of endemic fish. This matters particularly because many of the fish they consume live on a diet of algae. And if the algae doesn’t get eaten, it overruns our beautiful corals reefs, which as anyone who has seen them will know, are some of the finest in all the Caribbean (indeed this year Scuba Radio said that “The Nature Island consistently delivers the best in Caribbean diving, if not the world“).

However, these fish may have venomous spines but they very slow moving (so would you be if you eat that much) and thus pretty easy to kill with a spear, which is also the most ecologically sensitive approach. “Any methods like nets or traps have a serious bycatch problem, with lots of other fish also killed,” explains Simon Walsh, president of the Dominica Watersports Association, who has led our island’s education drive on lion fish and encouraged the fishing and tourism industry to work together. “We are trying to preserve the reefs and local fish and we must not do anything that has other side effects on coral or fish. Lionfish hide low down in the reef and during the day hide in holes and under ledges, at sunset the emerge to hunt. They do not swim long distance and are site faithful. You will find the same lionfish in the same place day after day. So nets that catch lionfish would have to be very close to reef and would damage sponges and other coral.”

WHAT HAPPENS ON THE TOUR?

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Our activity begins right in front of the resort on our very own Tibay beach. Guests join one of the local fishermen on his boat, and head off into the calm waters of Prince Rupert Bay, home to some of our island’s finest corals and diving sites. We may be on a mission to find Lionfish, but it’s a pretty relaxed mission, so we make sure there’s plenty of time to explore the rich marine life and wide variety of coral found on the north western side of the island.

Guests are taught how to spear the lionfish before heading off underwater to have a go for themselves, always under the expert guidance of our local fisherman (indeed no one should attempt this activity without expert guidance, as the fish are venomous, and the corals fragile). And Simon also has this advice for any would be lionfish hunters: ‘Before you shoot a lion fish with a pole spear you must practice on sandy bottom. Do not shoot until you are confident that you will kill the lionfish! They learn to avoid divers if they get injured and then get away and they become very smart and difficult to kill even for seasoned divers/hunters like us. Lionfish are very easy to hunt, they even approach divers, you can, and must, get your pole spear tip inches away before you shoot them, so get close… and then get closer!”

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Once back on shore it’s time to turn your prize into a delicious, sustainable meal. Lionfish has a delicate white flesh with very mild taste so rather than dominating a meal it takes on the flavour of whatever sauces are used. This means it’s fantastic in ceviche, fishcakes, steamed or fried, as well as being ideal for people who do not like strong tasting fish.

Our chef Jemer is one of the island’s finest Lionfish cooks and in 2013 she won theDominica Iron Chef Challenge for her Herb Sautee Lionfish, which she says is “one of the best tasting fish and is simple to prepare.” Other recipes you might from her or the rest of our team include pan-seared lionfish or lionfish prepared in a batter made with Dominica’s finest Kubuli beer.

Whatever dish you end up making, there’s one thing we can guarantee: this activity offers three hours of exhilaration and discovery unlike any other. Where else can you go diving with a local fisherman, learn a vital survival skill, help protect some of the Caribbean’s finest coral reefs, and add a new and unique dish to your cooking repertoire?

 A FEW FACTS ABOUT LIONFISH

1 – Unknown in the Atlantic until a few years ago, lionfish can now be found from Massachusetts to Venezuela.

2 – They have no natural predators in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.

3 – Their stomachs can expand up to 30 times its normal size, enabling them to eat huge amounts of food relative to their size.

4 – Studies have shown lionfish can reduce local biodiversity by up to 80%, killing fish that eat algae and thus stop it over-running coral the coral reefs, which then die.

5 – Because lionfish aren’t endemic many local fish know to treat them as predators.

6 – Lionfish possess venomous spines which deter predators.

7 – In the Caribbean a single female lionfish can spawn over 2 million eggs/year, with reproduction occurring throughout the year about every 4 days.

8 – Dense lionfish populations can consume more than 460,000 prey fish/acre/year.