Friday, December 12, 2014

First lion(fish) hunt! Eat the invaders!

Tuesday, I waited for hours until the sky lightened with the approaching sunrise, then paddled ashore, tied up my kayak to a mangrove, and hiked from Coral Bay over the Johnny Horn Trail to Brown Bay carrying my mask and snorkel. The day before, I had seen a lionfish off the first point east of the bay,,-64.70309,200m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x0
so I scrambled down a bank and along the shore, watching for wait-a-minute shrubs (a kind of thorny acacia) on land and urchins in the shallows, waded in a bit, removed excess clothing (shoes, shirt, etc) and placed them on top of a rock, then slipped into the water.
This reef is one of the nicest I've seen. Seldom visited, the corals and creatures seem to be doing quite nicely. Two 4-inch fish, jaws locked together in a fight for several seconds, pushing each other back and forth, then they released and backed away, perhaps considering honor satisfied and point made. A cow-nosed ray swept silently by, eight feet from nose to tail-tip, wings spanning perhaps four feet. I nearly bumped into a barracuda, mouth open and hanging still above a coral head, sharp teeth on my mind as I swam past and away.
One coral head had perhaps a hundred 2" fish flocking about it.... and a beautiful striped, camouflaged predator drifting like a toxic cloud above it, nearly a foot long and fins encompassing a similar width. I swam on another hundred yards, finding many coral heads loaded with fish, then came across the most beautiful and populated of all.... with two six-inch lionfish hunting over it, drifting about until they could corner and pounce upon breakfast.

Chilled by nearly an hour in the water, I turned back and, just before I emerged from the water, found the fish I had seen the day before: four lionfish in an hour! I headed up the trail toward home, my mind whirling with thoughts and ideas. The park does not allow anyone to carry a spear unless they have special permission/training, so I would call about that. Lionfish only eat live fish, so hook and line might be hard, but could I snag them with a treble hook on a rod while snorkeling? And I've never seen anyone in the water there, much less any sign of Park or official personnel.... should I simply bring the spear? And, like a wasp, might a lionfish attack me if disturbed?
Spear in hand, I set out yesterday... although a bit later than Monday. Lionfish are visual hunters, so it makes sense that they would be out early for breakfast, then retreat to their hidden spots to digest... so the early fisherman sees the lions.Checked the first lionfish.... nothing: was I too late in the morning or looking at the wrong spot? Swimming awkwardly, spear in hand, I spotted the big lionfish and, as I approached, it plunged and (one assumes) engulfed a fish. For the first time, I pulled back the Hawaiian sling spear, took aim from a couple feet.... and missed, the point striking rock beside the lionfish.
Lionfish have no predators, no fear. It ignored my spear and contemplated the fish it had eaten while I reset, took aim, and shot again... with a most satisfying thunk. I swam to shore, dispatched the creature, then began cutting it open to free the recent meal.... until I had second thoughts: what if it wiggled and stuck me with a venomous spine or I impaled myself on one? Was the life of the little fish worth the risk? So I left the lion on shore, mentally marked the spot, and swam on.
The final coral head target.... but where were the two lions? I looked and finally found one relaxing in a nook, probably already full. A moment later it wiggled on my spear and remained there while I fruitlessly looked for its partner-in-predation, then retrieved the larger one and headed home, leaving the spear hidden in a bush on shore, the two fish in a container made from a discarded water bottle.
First step with lionfish: cut off the venomous spines with scissors... and toss them overboard! Even detached they are dangerous! Then just clean them like regular fish... and, appropriately, I poached them. Tasty.... and very, very satisfying. And everyone who sees them or hears about it gives a big thumbs up and smile, even the DPNR officials checking the harbor boats to make sure everyone was legal skipped me after I showed off my catch. Most amusing.

Next time perhaps lionfish sushi? ( ) I know Peter is good at making sushi... He also has piles of limes, so maybe ceviche..

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