This article by Sarah Lagan appeared in Bermuda’s Royal Gazette.
A champion lionfish hunter has revealed some of his top tips for catching the invasive species.
Bermudian Mark Outerbridge has won the freediving category of a winter lionfish tournament and has bagged 53 of the pests over nine separate freediving trips along the South Shore using just a spear, snorkel gear and a container to transport his catch.
Researcher Corey Eddy launched the tournament in January after an increase in lionfish being reported in shallow waters and because there were very few statistics about the species during the winter months in Bermuda. He also wanted to contribute to his research study at the University of Massachusetts.
Mr Outerbridge — part of the Lionfish Task Force, launched to combat the problem of the species depleting local fish populations — said that heading out at dusk was the best time to find the fish in shallow water.
He told The Royal Gazette: “I have been doing this long enough and over different periods of the day. I have narrowed it down to dusk — that is when I recommend that hunters go out.
“You also need to learn to develop a search image — I have a particular suite of images I have in my mind that I am looking for as I am scanning the reef.
“Each diver has to develop that for themselves but once they develop it they will start seeing them — it’s incredible.
“I am looking for a particular pattern, a shape, the way that they move — they usually hunt head down with their fins open and that is a very unique image. That image pops up and I can see one from 50 feet away.”
Mr Outerbridge said finding the right spots was crucial. During the three-week tournament, he chose several hot spots along the South Shore, including John Smith’s Bay and Elbow Beach.
“There are definitely lots in those areas,” he said. “There are a lot of other spots along the South Shore.
“Anyone interested in catching lionfish to go to the www.lionfish.bm website and look at the map — that’s what we want our hunters to be using.
“We want them to use the map to help guide divers where to go and to report their stats. So instead of people jumping overboard and swimming around randomly getting discouraged, they can go straight to where the majority of reports are.
“We recognise that people who are new to this can easily get discouraged looking for hours with no success.”
Mr Outerbridge said that hunting for lionfish was something anyone could enjoy doing at minimal cost.
“It doesn’t have to cost much in order to still catch fish for their table,” he said. “You just need to get a regulation spear and basic snorkel equipment. You don’t need a boat, they don’t need gas money.
“It can fit in nicely with anyone’s routine. My girlfriend would go off to yoga and I would go for a swim for an hour in the morning and we would meet up and spend the rest of the day together.
“Lionfish is all that we have been eating fish-wise for the past two years. I have given up spearing native fish.
“For years I would go out and spear hogfish and snappers and the lionfish came around and I was very quickly sold.
“I love being out there, it’s great exercise, I like bringing home wild, organic fish from the ocean and the icing on the cake is that they are lionfish and are not supposed to be part of our ecosystem.”
Mr Eddy, also part of the Lionfish Task Force, said he believed that the tournament was successful in terms of increasing catch over the winter months, and he hoped it will become an annual fixture.
So far, 99 fish have been caught through the tournament but the total count is not complete.
“The idea of a winter tournament had been talked about for a while in the Task Force and so I went ahead with it.
“We definitely need information about what’s going on in the winter months because we don’t do our surveys at this time of year and there are not a lot of people in the water.
“So far I’m pretty confident that it did motivate more of the winter lionfish hunting.
“There is a dedicated crew out there but for what we started with it was a great success.”
Lionfish hunting permits can be obtained by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
For the original report go to http://www.royalgazette.com/article/20150205/NEWS/150209847
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