Fla. divers take aim at invasive reef fish

By Steve Waters, Sun Sentinel (MCT)
Posted March 07, 2012, at 3:59 p.m.

LIGHTHOUSE POINT, Fla. — Here’s some good news regarding lionfish, the invasive species from the South Pacific whose population is expanding in Florida waters: Concerned divers who belong to the Lighthouse Point Saltwater Sportsman Association have found that when you kill every lionfish on a particular patch of reef, that area remains free of the exotic menaces.

On a recent Saturday several club members went out specifically to spear lionfish and they shot almost two dozen diving in 40-70 feet of water off Pompano Beach.

“On one reef, we took probably seven off one area. It was probably 100 square feet,” Tracy Sands said.

Sands, a diving and free-diving instructor, said that lionfish are territorial, so they’ll stay in a particular area. When fish are removed from an area, he has found that other lionfish do not immediately take their place.

“So that area ought to be clean for a while,” said fellow diver Dan Kurt.

Sands and Kurt are lethal on lionfish, taking advantage of every opportunity to kill them. Some divers only shoot big ones that they can easily fillet, but Kurt said he shoots every lionfish he sees, no matter how small.

“It’s good to kill the little ones before they become big ones,” said Kurt, who shot a 15-inch lionfish, the biggest of the day. “Think of the damage those [little ones] would have done.”

The big ones do have thick, firm, mild-tasting fillets that Frank Schmidt cuts into chunks. He dips the chunks into eggs beaten with olive oil, coats them with Italian bread crumbs and deep fries them.

Sands, Kurt and Staley Weidman were out on Shocker with Lou Taylor. Jeff Bush and his son, Taylor, went with Schmidt, who is a diving instructor and who showed the Bushes how to safely handle speared lionfish.

Besides having no known predators and eating native species, including baby lobsters, hogfish, snappers, shrimp and squid, lionfish have venomous spines that cause intense pain in those unfortunate enough to get stuck.

After he shoots a lionfish, Schmidt grips the fish securely by putting his thumb in its mouth and removes the spear. Then he uses shears to cut off every spine and puts the disarmed fish in his catch bag.

Schmidt also shared safety tips at his house during a post-dive lionfish cookout.

He told of a diver who had removed a lionfish from his spear, then used his hand to wipe the tripod spear tip clean. He didn’t realize that a spine was clinging to the tip and it pierced his Kevlar glove, sending him to the hospital, where he was told to go home and put his hand in hot water.

Schmidt, who has been spined, emphasized the importance of divers keeping their cool if they get stung by a lionfish and not rushing to the surface.

“You’re in so much pain, you could forget your good rules of diving,” he said. “In 12 feet of water you’ll be OK, but in 60 feet you could get in trouble.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/03/07/outdoors/fla-divers-take-aim-at-invasive-reef-fish/ printed on September 22, 2014