Yesterday, West End Divers took a two-tank lionfish hunting trip to Keyhole and Big Surprise, both located on the north end of Roatan near Palmetto Bay. Lionfish are an invasive species with no natural predators in the Caribbean, introduced accidentally into the ecosystem. Because of the deleterious effects of lionfish on other species native to the Mesoamerican Reef, West End Divers partners with the Roatan Marine Park to take legal spearfishing trips to eliminate these beautiful but destructive creatures.
One of the most important reasons to travel outside of West End and West Bay to hunt lionfish is that the more trafficked dive sites on the south end of the island are the focus of far more lionfish hunters because of their proximity to Roatan’s most popular restaurants, dive stores, and underwater attractions. Unfortunately, this means that lionfish often breed and grow unchecked on the north end of the island, where they damage the biodiversity and vitality of the entire reef.
Hunting lionfish is no easy task. They are relatively elusive, and like hiding in the dark overhangs of coral outcroppings. Their alluring spines are tipped with poison, and can result in painful stings. Lionfish are hardy and strong, and can escape from even experienced hunters unless the spear strike is accurate and deep. Perhaps most challenging, they are quite fast, and are alert to potential threats, requiring hunters to possess a combination of stealth and speed.
The best lionfish hunters are also excellent SCUBA divers. Because of the difficulty of finding and catching their prey, lionfish hunters must be keen-eyed and adaptable, with outstanding buoyancy and advanced dive skills. Today, our crack team included several West End Divers-trained divemasters, including Joseph, Billy, and Kal, all of whom assisted hunters in quarrying their prey.
Because lionfish hunting is the result of SCUBA skills and attention to detail and not strength, our lionfish hunters range in age from teens to senior citizens. In fact today, our most successful hunter was Ashley, a teenage girl hunting with her father Craig, who speared 8 lionfish!
After returning to the shop with our catch, Kal demonstrated how to properly clean a lionfish for our guests. The first step is to score the area behind the poisonous spines with a fillet knife. Second, remove the spines with a pair of shears. Some, like the spines from the pectoral fin, are saved for a local West End artist who uses them to make jewelry! Third, cut off the head. We feed these to the reef fish! Fourth, carefully remove the skin. Unlike many fish, lionfish skin usually just peels off if you give it a good tug. Fifth, slice open the belly and remove the innards. Finally, carefully cut the lionfish lengthwise along the spine, removing the fillets from bone.
Lionfish meat is sweet and delicious. We especially like it marinated in lime, cilantro, salt, and pepper. It is excellent grilled by itself, or the smaller fillets can be fried to create scrumptious lionfish tacos.
Contact us today to request a spot on our next lionfish hunting trip. Whether you’re a first-timer or an experienced hand, we would love to help you find your fishing stride! If you haven’t planned your trip to Roatan yet, be sure to ask about our convenient stay and dive packages. Just choose your dates and we will take care of the rest!
We can’t wait to see you soon. Happy hunting!