Lionfish cull results in record haul
More than 1,000 lionfish were removed from waters around the island as part of a monthlong competition.
The sixth annual Winter Lionfish Derby, organised by the Bermuda Lionfish Taskforce, resulted in a record 1,072 lionfish catches last month.
Stuart Joblin, an organiser for the event, said: “We had 87 people registered for it, and not everybody got in the water, but we got more than a thousand fish. It's terrifying in one respect because that's more lionfish than last year or the one before, but at least we are getting them out of the water.”
The haul meant that 2,806 lionfish have been culled from Bermuda's waters between February 2019 and the end of last month.
Mr Joblin said the derby was a way to protect Bermuda's marine environment from lionfish, which prey on native species, as well as gather information so they can be better hunted.
Competitors had to log their catches online, including GPS locations where the fish were caught. Mr Joblin said: “Historically, the recording system has not been designed to deal with the numbers we are now recording.
“A thousand fish a month is insane. 2,000 fish in a year is terrifying. We have improved the system so it's more mobile-friendly, but what we would like to have, and we are looking for partnership on, is an app so people can take a picture which can record the metrics and the GPS details.
“It would take the guesswork out and gather the data accurately and quickly, not just for the scientists but for the other cullers.”
Mr Joblin added: “If you knew three teams went out at Devonshire Bay on Tuesday morning, Tuesday evening you might not want to go to Devonshire Bay.
“You might want to go somewhere else. It is a competition, but what we are really doing is getting lionfish out of the water.
“That's really what it's all about. To keep as many lionfish from eating everything they can as quickly as we can.”
Lionfish are native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, but are believed to have been introduced to the Atlantic in the early 1990s.
The species, which has no natural predators in the Atlantic, thrived and spread across the Caribbean, the US East Coast and around Bermuda.
Mr Joblin said little was known about lionfish behaviour in the Atlantic.
He said: “Something I want to do is get money moving towards a study to tag lionfish and see where they go and what they do. There is anecdotal evidence that people don't see lionfish in the summertime, but we don't know if that's because visibility is poorer or if they don't like the hotter water.
“The idea would be to raise money so we can find out where they are so we can more efficiently target them.”
The bulk of the lionfish caught in the tournament were along the South Shore and the East End.
Mr Joblin said that may be because the winter weather made it more difficult to dive on more northerly reefs.
He said: “The South Shore is easier to get to, deeper water is closer and prevailing winds in the winter are northerly so it's more difficult to get in on the North Shore. You really don't want a lot of water movement.
“I know we wanted to get out more to the north breakers, but the weather never really co-operated.”
He added: “I will say that the shallowest we were when we caught lionfish, I was kneeling on the bottom with my chest out of the water, and we got three lionfish at this tiny rock off a slip at Devonshire Bay. It's frightening.”
Mr Joblin said more lionfish competitions will be held later this year, including a nine-day spring competition, a single-day tournament in late summer and another tournament in the autumn. He added: “The idea is to keep momentum going to get people out there in the water, recording their catches and find ways to reward them for getting out.”