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Over-fishing for conservation in the Cayman Islands
Published on June 28, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands -- Comfort Suites Grand Cayman, which is franchised by Choice Hotels International, Inc.,one of the world's leading hotel companies, is working to help preserve the Cayman Islands waters of invasive marine life.

Ridding the Cayman Islands waters of a voracious foreign fish species is one of the initiatives embraced by the resort, which is working closely with a local dive company.

"The lionfish was introduced to Cayman Islands waters and have wreaked havoc on our local fish population -- which has in turn damaged our coral reefs -- so we jumped at the opportunity to do something about it with our partners at Ambassador Divers," reported Tom Mason, general manager of the Comfort Suites resort on Grand Cayman’s famous Seven Mile Beach.

Comfort Suites Seven Mile Beach partnered with Ambassador Divers to support an innovative scheme, guided by the Cayman Islands Marine Conservation Board, to reduce the numbers of the voracious fish introduced from the Asia-Pacific region.

"People bought the lionfish for their aquariums and, when they saw how they devoured other fish in the tanks, dumped them into the ocean -- not knowing the species could produce 30,000 eggs every four days," said Jason Washington, owner of Ambassador Divers -- one of the premier dive shops in the Cayman Islands.

In an effort to cull the island waters of the killer fish, the Cayman United Lionfish League (CULL) launched a fishing tournament which is counter-intuitive to the norms of sustainable fishing. The aim of the tournament is to drastically reduce the lionfish population and, perhaps, eventually rid their waters of the species.

"We know this is not possible. We can only maintain our reef, much like someone cuts their grass, we can never completely rid our waters of this fish, but we can, through our culling efforts, help stem the tide," asserted Washington, whose dive shop is located at Comfort Suites Grand Cayman.

"Our lionfish tournament, held four times a year, awards prizes not only for the largest but also the smallest fish to ensure they don't breed as much," stated Washington who runs classes teaching tourists how to handle the predator fish which have venomous spikes covering their bodies.

The invasive species is not eaten by Caribbean predator fish so Washington looked ashore for a solution: "Fortunately it is quite a delicious species and we've shown the local restaurants how to appreciate its white, flaky flesh. Demand has outstripped our ability to supply -- so, we need more tourists to help us fish."

The Cayman Islands even got the celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain, to appreciate the taste, thereby shining more international attention on the fight to restore indigenous fish stocks by catching, and eating, the lionfish.

"Without natural predators, the lionfish devoured local fish at an alarming rate -- and compounded their damage by also killing fish which cleaned and maintained our vulnerable coral reefs causing serious harm to our coral reef systems," lamented Washington.

"It's not often you have a chance to over-fish and we're hoping more of our guests take advantage of the very rare opportunity to actually over-fish for conservation," stated Mason.
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