Hunters preparing for Lionfish Tournament now just a week away 

The spiny, venomous lionfish can kill three-quarters of a reef's fish population in just five weeks, according to one study (Photo courtesy Michael Dwyer/AP)
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Hunters will soon be taking to Antigua’s waters for an eagerly anticipated lionfish tournament being held from November 18-20.

Co-sponsored by the local Elkhorn Marine Conservancy and the California-based non-profit Lionfish University, the tournament will be capped with a festival in Nelson’s Dockyard on November 20 from 1pm-5pm. 

Lionfish are an invasive fish that are eating their way through native fish populations on coral reefs in the western Atlantic Ocean.

“Antigua is a beautiful island, and our economy and people depend on our reefs,” says the event’s coordinator Martha Watkins-Gilkes.

“We have a special responsibility to protect our marine resources, not only for our own and our island visitors’ enjoyment, but for tomorrow’s children.

“The derby will help us protect the reefs by removing lionfish and the festival will allow us to educate citizens about the importance of supporting and protecting our marine ecology.”

With more than EC$37,000 up for grabs in cash prizes, the tournament will reward lionfish hunters for the most, the largest, and the smallest lionfish captured.

There will be two days of lionfish hunting by scuba divers and freedivers on November 18 and 19, culminating in the cash awards and a lionfish cook-off by some of Antigua’s top chefs on November 20. 

Lionfish are delicious, low in mercury, and high in Omega-3 fatty acids. But many fear catching or fileting them because they have 18 venomous spines.

There are ways to hunt and handle lionfish and minimise the risk of stings.

The Lionfish University says one can reduce the risk of getting stung by knowing where the venomous spines are.

“Avoid all the tall, thin vertical spines on the back of the fish. They also have one venomous spine on each side at the base of the two pelvic fins, and three on the front edge of the anal fin under the back end of the fish,” a release said.

“When hunting or handling lionfish, using puncture-resistant gloves is a smart choice. Another not so obvious piece of protective equipment is shoes. A lot of stings have happened when fish are accidentally dropped on bare feet while handling them on a boat, or by a diver accidently stepping on a fish or spine on the deck.

“When catching lionfish underwater, hunters should use a hard-sided container to safely hold their catch.

“Hunters should always dive with a buddy so one can spear while the other keeps an eye out for predators. In some places, sharks, eels, and other predators recognise hunters and can be aggressive when they know there might be free food,” the release added.

Coast Guard personnel will be briefed on sting treatment by Alex Fogg, lionfish expert and director of the derby. In addition, free samples of StingMaster cream have been donated by the manufacturer and will be handed out to registered participants at the captain’s meeting at 4pm on November 17 at Nelson’s Dockyard. This is a free event for those registered for the derby.

The tournament is made possible by the support of the Ministry of Tourism and Minister Charles Fernandez, the Mill Reef Club, Elite Island Resorts, and others.

Participants can enter the derby as individuals or as teams of up to four people. Entry is free. To register visit or complete a registration form and liability release at Ava’s Watersports on the main road in English Harbour.

Email [email protected] for more information.

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