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Reef pest becomes Cayman’s culinary delight

| 28/04/2015 | 1 Comment

(CNS Business): As efforts to control the lionfish population wreaking havoc on reefs in the Caribbean continues, the Cayman Islands has jumped on board with the “If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ’em” campaign. Local restaurant owners said the demand exceeds the supply available on island, forcing them look elsewhere but organizations like the Cayman United Lionfish League (CULL) are asking for the government’s help to ban the importation of lionfish and to focus more on culling and serving the invasive species from our own reefs. 

The Department of Environment’s Chief Conservation Officer and CULL member, Mark Orr, said that unfortunately lionfish are here to stay. He explained that Florida recently banned all importation of lionfish and would like to see Cayman do the same.

“We need to encourage every restaurant to buy locally,” Orr stated. “It’s so important to eat local caught lion fish. We have so many fish here that we have to get rid of, we can not afford to bring in fish from other countries.”

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Culling lionfish on Cayman Islands’ reefs

CULL member Katie O’Neill said one of organization’s main missions is to continue to create a market for lionfish in Cayman and to thin out its population one bite at a time.

“It is delicious to eat but it’s especially good when it’s fresh from our own reef. You can bring in lionfish from other places like Honduras and it’s cheaper but it doesn’t help Cayman and we need to take care of our reef first and foremost,” she explained.

Chef and Owner of Tukka Restaurant and Bar in East End, Ron Hargrave, said he’s been cooking lionfish for more than seven years.

“The whole focus 7 to 8 years ago was to get chefs on board to get them to realize this problem is not going to go away unless we create a demand for this fish,” he said. “The last four and a half years we’ve hit over the 10 thousand pound mark, that I’ve bought through various different people.”

He said customers can’t get enough, from their lionfish tacos, burgers, ceviche and even served whole as a filet. Most of their customers are aware of the issue and support the cause by ordering at least one lionfish dish, he said. But in order to keep these choices on the menu, sometimes he has to look outside of Cayman for his supply.

“You can’t beat fresh, fresh is best, but we get international stuff from Central America too because the local guys here in Cayman can’t supply enough of it,” he explained.

Government must take ownership of lionfish problem

However, CULL leaders continue to lead efforts to reduce the threatening species that reproduce at an alarming rate. Orr said CULL recently held one of their four lionfish culling events earlier this month, in which locals divers and fishermen caught 885 lionfish off the reefs in two days.

“What we are trying to do is keep the numbers down, low enough until nature steps in and other predators start seeing them as prey and also the small prey fish start seeing them as predators so they learn to run away from them,” Orr explained.

As for the price of lionfish in Cayman, officials said that can run from $5 to $12 a pound.

“It has to be a fairly decent price because it’s a dangerous fish. It’s a dangerous job going out and getting them, but we have to have our fishermen and cullers out here to encourage them to keep taking them, keep getting them off the reef, otherwise we may be looking at nothing else on the reef but lionfish,” Orr said.

Hargrave agrees it is best to buy locally and said he is thrilled at the awareness that has been raised about this species around the world.

“It’s amazing how many people are now aware of the problems this fish is causing and everyone is getting behind it because ultimately by eating them you’re protecting your reefs, your protecting a dive industry, a tourism industry,” he explained.

O’Neill added everyone in Cayman can help with the culling efforts in Cayman because when you buy a plastic or green bag at Foster’s Food Fair, that money goes into an environmental fund that Foster’s donates to the CULL each year.

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Category: Culinary Tourism, Featured, Food & Drink, Local Business, Tourism, Video, Watersports

Comments (1)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Good job guys!

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