Bermudian conservationist wants lionfish fight extended to the Caribbean

A report by Sarah Lagan for The Royal Gazette.

A conservationist said he aimed to combat the Atlantic invasion of lionfish with an extension of his fishing tournament to the Caribbean.

Weldon Wade, the founder of ocean conservation organisation Guardians of the Reef, added he already had a Jamaican partner on board and has asked more countries in the region to join in.

Mr Wade said: “I have found a host in Jamaica who owns a dive shop who has agreed to participate. My goal is to run one in every country in the invaded region – the Caribbean islands.

“Lionfish are a big problem and there are derbies happening around the region – I think it is important to raise awareness and a lot of these countries are not as established and switched on as we are in Bermuda.

“I am offering my resources and experiences to those countries.”

Guardians of the Reef this month launched the Bermuda based Lionfish Grand Prix which will run until the end of the month, with another scheduled for December.

Mr Wade, who was in January appointed as the communications coordinator for the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme, created to develop Bermuda’s “blue economy”, said he planned to run future competitions through online platform iAngler Tournament.

The web portal and mobile app will allow people to participate online in fishing tournaments around the world.

Contestants from different countries can log their catches and keep track of scores.

The system also collects fishing data for marine research.

Mr Wade said: “Two years ago, I partnered with Michael Christopher who runs the online fishing tournament web portal and we built a lionfish specific framework.

“Although the Lionfish Grand Prix is in the fall, I can run a tournament whenever. I can step away from the seasonality side of things and turn it on its head.”

Mr Wade added: “This is about taking the tournament concept to islands that don’t have it helping to raise awareness about the problem of lionfish. I am working with NGOs, it is a collaboration.

“Bermuda is very switched on – some countries in Mediterranean don’t even know you can eat them. We are doing well. This is all self funded with supporting partners.

“With the pandemic and people not being able to come together you can do it online.”

Participants can register for free, after the app is downloaded.

They can also take photographs of their catches to be in with a chance of winning prizes.

Mr Wade added: “My wish is to have a Bermuda versus Jamaica lionfish culling tournament. That is my bigger vision.

“No one has done what I am doing – a strictly lionfish tournament with an online portal.

“It is honour-based as most tournaments are – we do require an authentic photo which we can capture data from. The app can also pull the GPS coordinates of participants.”

The invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfish threatens to damage reef ecosystems and commercial fisheries in the Atlantic.

Lionfish have no known natural predators in the Atlantic and produce up to 30,000 eggs in a month.

Their numbers have exploded in the Bahamas, north Caribbean countries and along the East Coast of America.

Bermuda has organised several lionfish tournaments in the past and a Winter Lionfish Derby is still held.

Lionfish, which are edible, rich in omega 3 and low in heavy metals, have been sold at supermarkets and also made it on to the menu at some restaurants.

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