“ Fight against lionfish on ”

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IT’S SPEAR VERSUS SPINE. Who is winning? No one knows just yet. But it seems the island’s intrepid hunters are keeping pace with  the alien invader, whose imminent arrival had sent shock waves  of fear among members of the marine community. To date, six of the highly poisonous, voracious feeders,  known as lionfish, have been killed  by divers or caught by fishermen. The last one, speared by a deep sea diver on Sunday, was lurking  in 100 feet of water off the coast  of Ragged Point Lighthouse  in St Philip. The entry of divers in the fight against the marine predator  was deliberate. After all, said marine biologist Caroline Bissada-Gooding, whose company East Coast Conservation Organization Inc. runs the Lionfish Barbados Hotline, who better  knows the reefs, wrecks and waters. “As part of our public awareness campaign, we have roped in the divers and the dive association  and all the dive shops because, frankly, they are the ones that  are out there the most,” she said. “And also it’s in their own interest to get involved because  as the lionfish population grows,  the reef fish communities will shrink and that’s their livelihood  at stake, so it’s really up to the divers, dive shops and fishermen  to get involved”. Right now, noted the marine biologist, the island’s lionfish population was still small  and those caught were being collected by members of the Lionfish hotline and taken to the Fisheries Division to be examined. But since the captured lionfish have been held in depths ranging from 20 to 100 feet, Bissada-Gooding said there was a lot  of open water where divers and marine biologist really didn’t  know what the lionfish population was like. However, Barbados’ position as the eastern-most island has actually worked to its advantage. Marine biologists here have been watching the predators migrate across  the Caribbean and have had time  to put preparations in place. But in the past month, said Bissada-Gooding, confirmed sightings had gone from one to six. “We have known they are arriving but we’ve put the word out early,” she said. And divers will not only be urged to redouble their efforts to kill, but there just might be calls for local and tourist divers to strap on their tanks and step in the water  for lionfish hunting trips. She has credited the dive shops operators for their enthusiasm  in the fight. “They’ve all been very keen to get involved. They have been fabulous and they have been on board  from the beginning,” she added. And though the thought of eating something as deadly as lionfish might not appeal to the average fish lover, Bissada-Gooding has assured the public they are quite tasty, especially when prepared in a fillet. “It’s very nice, like white meat,  like a snapper. It’s not raw at all,” she said. • heatherlynevanson@ nationnews.com