Lionfish hunters doubled with longer permits
A scheme to take invasive lionfish out of the sea and put them on dinner plates is to expand.
The number of hunters is to double and permits will run for a year instead of six months.
Tammy Warren, senior marine resources officer, said: “Initially it was for the top five cullers, people who were already very active and getting good numbers.
“The permits have been reissued, and now last a year.'
“We have also just increased the number of permits to ten, although only eight are active at the moment.”
A pilot lionfish vending programme was launched by the Government in 2015, which allowed a handful of hunters to spear and sell lionfish.
Dr Warren said the vendor programme was set up to supplement a culling programme, which allowed volunteers to hunt lionfish in Bermuda's waters.
She said: “In the regular culling programme, volunteers have to do a course and then they can go out and cull lionfish.
“The vendor programme was intended to try to help increase the market for lionfish.
“They are only able to sell the fish directly to restaurants and grocers and its special because they are able to sell speared fish.
“People are normally not permitted to sell speared fish so we had to give them a special permit.”
The lionfish sold under the programme also have a fixed price of $12.50 per pound.
Dr Warren said the number of people involved in the programme has remained small to help prevent abuse.
She said: “The people that have been chosen are people we feel confident giving the privilege to. They have shown by their actions they are committed to the environment.
“If we expand it too far, we are concerned about the illegal sale of fish, speared fish that are not lionfish.
“Part of the conditions of the permit is that you must sell the fish whole and with the skin to ensure it is lionfish.”
Corey Eddy, who has researched lionfish in Bermuda, said the vending programme could help spark a lionfish fishing industry.
Dr Eddy added: “While we know, and have known for a while, that the restaurants and markets want to sell lionfish, we've had a slow start meeting that demand.
“Before the vending programme, the only supply was lionfish caught by commercial lobster fishermen, which of course is limited to six months of the year, but less so in actuality, as the numbers of lionfish being caught in traps usually drop quickly by November.
“The vending programme could help make the lionfishery a full-time fishery.”
He said the 600 lionfish caught during the recent Winter Lionfish Derby — assuming a weight of 1lb per fish — would be worth $7,500.
Dr Eddy added: “It's potentially a very profitable fishery that uses locally caught and sustainable fish.
“Lionfish are, in fact, the most environmentally friendly fish you can eat. Plus, it's an incredibly healthy choice.”
He said the vending programme provided an incentive for the public to target lionfish, which helps to protect the island's marine ecosystem.
“By creating a huge supply to meet the demand, we may have a chance to overfish the lionfish population and thereby minimise the population although we'll not likely ever eradicate them.”