Gulf Coast Fisherman Magazine Vol 41 No 3 - Page 9

by Patrick Lemire Rod & Reelin’ GULF INVADERS O ur “Gulf Invaders” are the lionfish; beautiful but deadly on several levels. My illustration shows just one of their many looks and replaces the rigging, bait or lure usually shown there. With that being the case, the rigging you might use to catch a lionfish is the simple, single, double or triple drop bottom rig used offshore for catching ver- million snapper or baitfish. Fished at, or very near the bottom, and armed with nickel size circle hooks and small pieces of cut squid, these rigs might have you on your way to a catch that requires some caution. The caution here is avoiding being stuck by the lionfish’s pectoral and dorsal fins; needle like spines that are concealed just below the surface of their fins. The spines contain a venom that can cause severe pain. A couple of Florida divers described it as “like having your hand slammed in a car door, while it’s on fire!” Whatever the pain level, it’s reported to last for days, diminishing gradually. The way to reduce the chance of being stuck is to carefully cut the fins off close to the Lionfish’s body with scissors or end cutter pliers. Do this while holding the fish by its lower jaw with your left thumb and forefinger with the fish held over the water, letting the spines and their venom fall harmlessly into the water. Precautions are necessary because their beauty hides their dangers. That beauty invites close hands-on inspection, especially by children, since a lionfish looks like a toy of sorts. As is usually the case in nature, beauty can signal danger. If you catch a lionfish, remember that while the spines are venomous the white fillets are delicious, and not poisonous, as some reports I’ve seen have said. The easiest way to clean one is to cut the body skin just behind the gill plate, along the back and belly, then pull the skin from the gill plate to the tail. Now it’s time to cut the fillet from that side, and repeat on the other. What’s the chance of you catching a lionfish out of any Gulf port? I would say relatively small at this point. The greater problem Gulf wide and beyond, is the lionfish’s real threat to virtually all small bottom dwelling species, whether they are the young of species such as snapper, grouper, etc., or small adult species of any kind. If they live at or near the bottom in lionfish territory, their chance of being eaten is great. That scenario sounds normal, its exception is that in the Gulf and beyond, in the near Atlantic Basin, lionfish have no natural predator. Another bad point is that an adult female can produce about two million eggs a year; Gulf currents ensure their range expansion. With all the bad points mentioned, especially the “no natural predators”, their danger to many Gulf populations is obvious. These voracious feeders consume just about any smaller species available, to the point of beyond full. A fan-like fin display, as in the illustration, and their assorted fin colors and slow movements, give the look of being a piece of seaweed, slowly drifting in the current. Then “BANG”, in an instant gulp, a smaller species is eaten. Lionfish are native to the Indio- Pacific Ocean, an area located roughly to the west and north of Australia. Their presence in our part of the world very likely originated as aquarium residents due to their beauty. Their introduction to American waters is generally accepted as possible releases from residential aquariums in South Florida during the mid 1980’s. Also reported lost from an aquarium, were six into Biscayne Bay at Miami during 1992’s hurricane Andrew. From those releases, they have multiplied and moved into waters about halfway up the East Coast, throughout the Gulf coastal waters, the Caribbean, and on to Brazil. Currents, the fishes repro- duction rate, lack of natural predators and eating habits, make them the “Big Picture” threat they are. Offshore of Galveston Island, there have been numerous sightings over the last few years at the Flower Gardens, and recent reports of sightings at the V.A. Fogg wreck, Stetson Rock and Clay Pile Areas. They have been caught on the party boats Capt. John and New Buccaneer. One bright point was being told by one of the Buc’s deckhands that a recently caught and released red snapper also had a small lionfish in its mouth. That is the only time I’ve heard of such, so, hopefully, they might have predators out there, at least that particular snapper was giving it a try. The point here is that they, as well as their catch rate, are expanding and are in our Gulf to stay. Lionfish are potentially the most disastrous invasive species to vulnerable, natural residents. I recently saw a video of divers off south Cuba feeding speared lionfish to Caribbean reef sharks and the sharks later finding and eating lionfish on their own. Hopefully, some of our natural residents will pick up on the method themselves and give some relief to the lionfish situation. For now, if you catch one, or some of these lionfish, our “Gulf Invaders”, handle with care and eat well. That’s my plan at first opportunity! G C F JULY • AUGUST • SEPTEMBER 2 0 1 7 9