After its initial trial launch in April of this year and a successful 4-month run, the CEI Lionfish Research and Education Program’s “You Slay, We Pay” campaign has now been re-launched, this time permanently and year-round. CEI and The Island School will be buying lionfish from local fishermen for the price of $11/lb for scaled fillets and $5/lb for whole fish. This effort to increase demand for the invaders coincides with an increased effort to disseminate information to local fishermen regarding safe handling of the fish; knowledge of spine locations, best treatment of stings, and easy ways to de-spine the fish will hopefully aid fishermen targeting them.
Whole fish delivered by fishermen can be harvested for a range of data. External photographs and measurements are used in morphometric studies of local fish populations that compare males and females as well as fish at varying stages of maturity. Stomach contents can be analyzed to indicate preferential diet by the fish. Maturity data can help complete the picture of regional lionfish demographics.
From whole fish, fins can also be collected. The unique, characteristically beautiful pectoral, pelvic, caudal, and anal fins can all be dried and incorporated into jewelry and other household decorations. In fact, after a very successful workshop in Tarpum Bay born from the collaboration between CEI and the Eleuthera Arts and Cultural Center (read about it here), local artists Sterline Morley and Mavis Munnings are both making and selling lionfish jewelry on-island. Undertakings like these continue to increase pressure for control of lionfish on the reefs.
Finally and perhaps most obviously, buying lionfish means that we can eat them! The Island School’s dining hall regularly prepares lionfish for the 50+ study-abroad students in semester-long programs as well as visiting scientists, CEI staff, and community members who attend special events such as Parents Weekend, Research Symposium, and other outreach meetings. The fish, high in omega-3 fats and with no reported cases of ciguatera, is an incredibly healthy option both for consumers and for the ocean. It is our hope that continued outreach and education efforts regarding the deleterious effects of the fish in conjunction with the new continuous market that the year-round Slayer campaign provides will be able to stop the rampant growth of the destructive lionfish.