Spear Gun ELF To Fight Lionfish
The NPR recently did a broadcast on the success that Bonaire seems to be having since the country started to allow ELF to kill Lionfish in its national marine park. The ELF in this case is not a magical creature with pointed ears, but a specially designed spear gun. Spear guns and hunting is not allowed in the waters of Bonaire National Marine sanctuary, however, exceptions have been approved in the case of hunting lionfish. The ELF tool (Eradicate Lion Fish Tool) is a spring loaded spear gun of a style known as a Hawaiian slings. They consist of an elastic band attached to a tube, through which a spear is launched. The short spear is spring loaded and features a clip for attaching to the bcd. The ELFspear has 6 mm threads and accepts a range of standard tips. The range is limited at around 10 feet. Lionfish can be approached very closely. As they have few natural predators in their native territory and none in the Atlantic Ocean they do not flee when approached. This allows divers to bring the spear tip close to the target. The design of the device is such that at close range it will kill the Lionfish but has insignificant power to cause serious damage to reefs.
A number of dive centers are participating in the government's efforts to eliminate the Lionfish from the reefs. These efforts include training courses on hunting Lionfish and using the ELF and other safety equipment. A PADI Lionfish Hunter Course is available at Caribbean Club Bonaire. Dive centers lead hunts for the fish for divers that are trained to hunt as well as scouting dives for those not interested in spearing the invaders. Most of the hunting dives include free cooking of your catch back at the dive centers restaurant. On the scout dives, divers leave a marker tied to a nearby dead coral to mark the location. The dive site and number of markers are recorded on a form. Divers return later to remove the Lionfish.
Since Bonaire is a distance away from the initial infestation off the coast of Florida, they had the opportunity to form an action plan before it became a necessity.The Bonaire National Marine Park received the first positive report on October 26, 2009 and immediately activated a previously prepared communication and action plan to remove as many Lionfish as possible. The critical point of this removal action is the accurate reporting to the Park Management in order to activate the "removal team."They issue dive centers location tags. These tags were able to be anchored and had a long piece of brightly colored ribbon attached, something like the police tapes around crime scenes. As the Lionfish do not venture far from their home territories, most of the fish could be located when the removal teamed arrived. Like a SWAT Team they would arrive in short time and take down the offender. While the marine park still has its removal teams, much of the reaction forces now are done by the dive centers themselves. While the Lionfish is still a threat in the marine park, the numbers are much better controlled then in the rest of the Caribbean sea.
The Lionfish as a substitute for sea base and grouper in local restaurants is also a positive factor. Many restaurants offer it on the menus as normal choice and some even have a Lionfish night offering the delicacy prepared in a number of ways.