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Cullers needed for next lionfish tournament

30 May 2019
Cullers needed for next lionfish tournament

The Cayman United Lionfish League (CULL) will be holding another tournament aimed at reducing the numbers of this invasive species, amidst organisers’ concerns that the population may be increasing. The tournament is set for Saturday and Sunday, 8-9 June, at the George Town Yacht Club. While CULL aims to make the events fun and offer various prizes for such categories as most fish and greatest total weight, the underlying purpose is to remove as many lionfish as possible from the waters around Cayman as well as collect important data on the species.

Lionfish threaten the reefs and the local fish population through their voracious eating habits and proficiency at reproducing, with one female able to produce up to 30,000 eggs every four days.

Katie O’Neill, vice chair and co-founder of CULL, warned the lionfish population seems to be on the rise.

“The numbers appear to be trending upward again with more lionfish being sighted on reefs by individual snorkellers and divers, as well as an uptick in the most recent CULL tournament results over last year’s,” she told CNS. At the last cull in March, 461 lionfish were caught, more than double the 224 taken at the one before that.

Mark Orr, chief conservation officer at the Department of Environment (DoE) and one of the founders of CULL, noted the significance of events like this.

“Along with the daily culling done by dive companies and individual licence holders, the CULL tournaments are an important part of the combined efforts to control the invasive lionfish because they cause competitors to go to those areas of the reefs not often visited by dive companies, whether because they are too far from home docks or not on the most popular dive site list,” Orr said.

Orr explained that during the tournament cullers are looking for large numbers of fish, “so they are willing to go further to reach areas that have not been culled recently. Also, when a section of reef is hunted during a tournament, cullers seem to do a more thorough search.” This leads to higher numbers of lionfish caught, including juveniles that might otherwise be overlooked.

The DoE assists with the weigh station at the tournaments, Orr explained, so they can collect data on the lionfish that are caught, including the location of each day’s catch, size of the fish and stomach contents, which will help with both local and Caribbean-wide efforts to control the spread of this fish.

Orr is hoping to get a good turnout for the next event, which marks the 29th tournament organised by CULL. “It is a fun way to spend a weekend with friends, enjoying our beautiful marine environment while helping to protect our reefs from this invasive species,” he said.

“We also encourage those who want to learn more about lionfish to come out to the weigh station between 4pm and 6pm each day to try a sample of lionfish, watch our filleting demonstrations and have any questions they might have answered,” Orr added.

While there is no date set for a CULL tournament to follow the upcoming event, it will most likely be in late August or early September, O’Neill said.

News Source: CNS