Lionfish are an invasive species to our Gulf waters, and they have no natural predators.As such, there are no restrictions or regulations on the harvest of these predators.They are a delicious fish with sweet, white meat so when we find them big enough to eat, we do!
A few weeks ago, I was invited by my friend Chris, owner of Reef Pirate Apparel, to head offshore and attempt to tame these voracious eaters.Because I was a “hired gun” for a specific purpose, he gave strict instructions to focus on finding the lionfish and to keep our mission in mind.
“Yes, you can bring your Blacktip speargun with you on your dives, but remember why you’re here:To polespear lionfish.Don’t get so busy chasing grouper and snapper that you swim past the lionfish!”Because of the venomous spines on a lionfish, they are harvested differently than other types of fish.We use a polespear to impale the lionfish and then carry a special PVC tube to contain the dead lionfish while we are underwater.This setup minimizes our contact with the fish’s venomous spines and helps to prevent injury.
The day’s diving was progressing along swimmingly.I was bringing up my fair share of lionfish and ignoring the other delicious fish cruising the ledges around me.On my fifth drop of the day, I made my way to the reef and off to my left spotted a BIG red grouper.“Wow,” I thought.“Look at that firetruck!Ignore!Ignore!”I swam on and polespeared two lionfish instead.Then I saw ANOTHER big red grouper.“Okay, that’s it,” I determined, “I’m taking one.”Whack.On the stringer he goes.When I am recreationally spearfishing, I only take what our family will eat so while I could have speared more fish that day, I only shot two of the red grouper on that spot and left the others for another day.
After I freeshafted the second red grouper, he darted into a small hole dragging my spear shaft behind him.While wrestling him out of the crevice, two big black eyes atop the canvas of white octopus skin peered out at me.“I’m not going to bother you, Buddy,” I murmured, and gently turned away from him.As I strung up the red grouper and speared two more lionfish, my eye spotted the rim of a large shell delicately protruding from the sand.
I quickly determined that the octopus must have dragged this shell and its occupant into the neighboring hole, ate whatever critter lived inside, and left the discarded shell which, over time, became buried in sand from years and years of storms.I grabbed the edge of the shell and tugged.It wouldn’t budge.I began digging and scooping in and around the edge of shell and after a short time, it began to shift as it was finally unearthed amidst a cloud of underwater dust and particulate.
As the large horse conch finally pulled free from the ocean floor, it practically sparkled in the sunlight!This flawless specimen was bleach white and unmarred by years of algae growth and barnacles.It was obvious that no critter had lived inside for a very, very long time.
I must have been quite a sight as I surfaced from that dive:Metal stringer with two big red grouper, PVC container filled with lionfish, four-foot polespear, 54 inch speargun, and a black mesh bag holding this horse conch filled with muddy stench.
The guys on the boat teased me and gave me grief for “bringing up shells like a girl,” but I didn’t care, because the way I saw it, I wound up being a real Reef Pirate that day:I’d found buried treasure.
Lisa Rollins is the only female cast member on the television show “Catching Hell” and a co-founder of Ocean LoveHer, a lifestyle brand that promotes a sense of adventure and a bold and courageous YOU. Our goal is to connected like-minded women, and the men who support them, and to encourage each other to awaken independence, love and adventure and become compassionate beings on personal quests for inner peace, gratitude and joy.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.