The island of Roatan is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second largest reef formation in the world. It extends from the tip of the Mexican peninsula all the way down to the northern coast of Honduras. This ecosystem plays an important role in the livelihoods of millions of people living in and across this region, however, since 1992, the arrival of a foreign species has seriously affected the local marine life found in this area. The introduction of the lionfish, a fish native to the Indo-Pacific region, has hit the Atlantic and the Caribbean hard, with catastrophic results due to an overpopulation of this species. The lionfish which has no known predators in this part of the world, possesses a voracious appetite and a rapid reproduction rate due to the warmer waters in the Atlantic, therefore their numbers have spiked and have reached plague-like proportions threatening to kill off the local fish populations.
There are several theories as to how the lionfish made its way to this region, with some theories tracing their appearance to floods produced by Hurricane Andrew in Florida in 1992. Others suggest its origin to the release of this fish into the wild by people involved in the pet trade. No matter how it occurred, their presence has negatively impacted the balance of local fisheries, and Roatan is no exception.
In order to curve the lionfish population, local dive shops like Barefoot Divers in Brick Bay, have been regularly hosting Lionfish Derbies - a dive and a lionfish hunt expedition where ex dive shop alums or basically anyone interested in becoming a pest control exterminator for a day can compete in a Lionfish spear hunting competition. Prizes are awarded for the total amount of lionfish collected, the biggest catch, and the smallest specimen, with prices ranging from free meals at the Barefoot Cay restaurant, free dives, and even monetary prizes.
The Lionfish Derby takes place every other Sunday, departing from Barefoot Divers in Brick Bay. It usually involves two morning dives in the south side of the island. To be able to join this Lionfish hunt you first need to be a licensed lionfish hunter. The Roatan Marine Park which is one of the local organizations co-managing the Bay Islands Marine Reserve is in charge of issuing this license which comes at a small cost and is bestowed on behalf of DIGEPESCA - the national entity that regulates fishing practices and regulations in Honduras. Participants receive one registered and numbered spear also known as a Hawaiian Sling. In addition, they need to pass a hunting workshop which takes about one hour to complete where participants receive valuable information about the lionfish and receive on the field instruction on the proper hunting techniques.
Activities such as this one can have a positive impact on the environment by helping curve the numbers of this invasive specie, and since they are fully edible and taste just like grouper (you just need to watch out for their venomous spines), we invite everyone to participate and help catch and eat more lionfish.