Field to Table: Shooting (Delicious) Lionfish to Protect our Reefs

Want to do this yourself? Talk to Brady Hale at Ocean Strike Team, and tell him Ian sent you:

Also, a huge thanks to Niuhi Dive Charters and Sake Cafe.

Lionfish are a scourge on reef habitats in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico from the eastern coast of South American as far north as New York. They are a species native to the Indian Ocean and Polynesia, and in their native habitat they have competition and predators, and exist as a balanced part of the ecosystem. In American waters, they have no natural predators at all, and their voracious appetites and rapid reproduction rate have caused them to multiply exponentially since they were first released off the Florida coast in the 1980s. One of the key strategies that has been successful in starting to control their population has been hunting by human recreational and commercial divers.

Fortunately, lionfish are in fact delicious eating. They give a flaky, white meat that is quite mild in flavor, with no “fishiness” at all. Whether battered and fried, grilled for fish tacos, or prepared as traditional sashimi, they make a fantastic meal. And so, when I wanted to do another “Field to Table” type video with a different feel from last year’s Texas hog hunt, lionfish were a perfect prey. I should note that while lionfish do have 13 venomous spines, they are neither potentially fatal nor do they carry any risk form eating at all. Like a rattlesnake, the spines must break the skin to inflict injury. If you are stung, the venom is very painful, but not life-threatening (with the caveat that diving is inherently dangerous, and getting stung underwater presents a great opportunity to do something stupid the will kill you).

Working with Brady, Adam, and Captain Andy, we spent several days on Pensacola Bay learning how to use the pole spear and Zookeeper to effectively kill and safely handle the lionfish. We dove on a variety of artificial reef structures at 80-100 feet, and harvested more than one hundred of these beautiful invaders between us. We brought the catch to Chef Wayan at Sake Cafe, and he prepared three wonderful different dishes for us.

A couple notes:

1) I recorded a really good interview with Captain Andy, who helps run annual Lionfish Derbies and is a great resource, but there was enough wind noise to make it unusable. I regret not being able to give him more exposure in the video.

2) The audio in general was a major challenge, between the noisy restaurant and not wanting to risk my good camera gear on the boat. I apologize for this shortcoming.

3) For those interested, we were using 32% Nitrox, with dives reaching a maximum of 102 ft. Filming was done with a GoPro Hero 6 and an iPhone 7 Plus in a Sealife camera case. This was our first time using the iPhone/Sealife rig, and it worked very well – but we need a good light rig to go with it, and we need to experiment with color correcting filters.

4) This is a continuing part of my long-term plan to produce video on specialty underwater firearms – so if you know someone with access to an H&K P11 or the like, please ask them to contact me… 😉

27 Comments

  1. I would assume that one would need to be certified to dive on this trip? Or do they do a basic pool course and then dive supervised?

  2. Well i expected that you use a HK P11. With a video on Monday about it.

    Common Ian, a P11 is really forgotten.

  3. Excellent video. Although, I had expected Ian to be deep below the sea, next to a shipwreck holding a Chassepot rifle. The story of the lion fish begins in Paris in 1842…

  4. I noticed a small shark. Now that would have been impressive from the field to the table and a little more difficult to shoot.
    In nautical terms “Lionfish in a reef” are akin to “ducks in a barrel”.

  5. I think Brady and his company will get a lot more business. He’s very comfortable on camera, showing how to hunt and filet. Great episode, thanks.

  6. It’s pronounced “sa-ke” (or ni-hon-shu). I thought it was Saki’s Cafe (owned by someone named Saki) till I read the description.

  7. I’ve dived with “Butterfly Cod” as they ate known her in Oz.Standard safety drill was to keep more than six feet from those spines. I prefer less “challenging” fish to toss in the pan; Coral Trout, for example

    We also have the worlds deadliest sea snakes, the Stonefish and a goodly supply of sharks of all sizes and temperaments.

    Apart from that, come on down (post the Kovid Kaper): The water is fine……

  8. Forgotten undersea weapons. I have a french co2 powered speargun from the late 40’s or 50’that a neighbour used on the atlantic coast near Royan. He got interested in spear fishing when he was part of the french resistance guarding the Poche de Royan during the winter of 1944/45

  9. Used to be a cartridge powered speargun available in single/double & quadruple spear formats.
    Went by the name of ‘Submarine Gun’

  10. With all my heart, but the best way to make this happen is to get this to commercial and family tables in New York and Los Angeles. How much of this can be reliably harvested on, what, a weekly basis, from Miami to the Hunts Point Market in the Bronx?? I suppose you don’t have to worry about sustainability because if you passed the ability to ability to kill off the species you’ve succeeded in the mission. But the fish market might like to know how long it could stabilize on this bounty, before buying boats and tackle.

  11. Funny movie.
    And a pleasant pastime.
    And a delicious snack.
    And a pleasant feeling from a useful business…

    However, from the point of view of population control, it is completely pointless.
    By knocking out the largest representatives of the species, you only free up the feed area for those that are smaller.
    If your goal is genocide (and if you don’t want to use bombs) then another tribe should be motivated and prepared to destroy one tribe.

    • Australia tried that- now the have Cane Toads. The US tried that- now they have Asian Silver Carp. Bringing a destructive invasive species into an ecosystem never ends well. Getting Humans to like eating something, or better yet eating -and- wearing it, however, works brilliantly.

  12. Given the firearms based nature of this channel I rather expected to see something on the FireFish underwater suppressor where they are using non-lead, frangible rounds for lionfish hunting with a Glock 17. A very interesting concept and one I thought in your wheelhouse.
    Just the same I found your presentation on the lionfish to be very interesting indeed! I wish that there were more access for recreational diver hunting in more places throughout the Caribbean but many of the islands have very strict laws about who can do so and what methods are allowed. Sure looks like you had some very good pickin’s, though, and a really fine meal afterward! Maybe you’ll have to look into the 9mm method at some point!

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