Bocas del Toro is consuming more lionfish than ever before. A group of fishermen from Isla San Cristobal that specializes in hunting lionfish is seeking the community’s help to invest in tools to be able to further control the lionfish population. There will be lionfish tournaments on March 12 and March 26, 2022, as well as fundraising efforts to support these fishermen.
“Eat the enemy!” is the campaign and the community of Bocas del Toro has risen to the challenge to consume the invasive species that has been decimating marine ecosystems around the Caribbean. Lionfish are native to the Pacific, have no natural predators in the region and literally gorge themselves on native fish, decreasing populations of fish typically traded and consumed in the area. It threatens the health of marine ecosystems and local economies that depend on them.
The lionfish movement has picked up some steam over the last year with the involvement of Wasteless World. They have engaged the native fishing community, connected them with more marketplaces and restaurants to purchase the product and promoted the consumption of lionfish to the general population, raising awareness with special tasting events, lionfish tournaments and even selling lionfish spine jewelry!
In Bocas del Toro the community is more aware of the issue than ever before and people are starting to incorporate it into their diet. The demand is increasing and the fishermen who hunt lionfish are finding that they need to invest in some key equipment to be able to remove even more lion fish from reefs.
We met with Jonathan Machado, the president of the Asociación de Pesca Artesanal Bocas del Toro and Tom Wright, founder of Wasteless World to have a chat about the current state of lionfish affairs in Bocas del Toro and how the community can help the fishermen remove more lionfish from our waters. The full Spanish language interview and an English language summary can be viewed on YouTube.
In the interview, Marchado breaks down what he and his lionfish slaying partners do in order to remove this invasive species from our waters. Due to the fact that lionfish like to take shelter in coral reefs and mangroves, capturing them by fishing rod or by net is simply not an effective way to control their rapid reproduction. Lionfish also shouldn’t be hunted with spearguns because it can easily damage the reef. The fishermen of San Cristobal use Hawaiian slings, which are ideal for not piercing coral. They are expert lionfish hunters that know where and how to stalk them and capture them without hurting the reefs.
In the interview Wright explained that there are few of these knowledgeable fishermen that are dedicated to lionfish hunting. The fishermen come from low income villages on San Cristobal island and the lionfish fish trade has been a new economic opportunity for them. It’s important to note that from March 1 to June 30 there is a lobster ban in the area which heavily impacts the income of the local fishing industry. The lionfish trade helps provide economic support to these families during the lobster ban. Not only that, but baby lobsters happen to be a major part of the lionfish diet. In short, supporting the lionfish trade provides economic opportunity and helps the marine ecosystem in a number of ways.
Together We Can Hunt More Lionfish
In the interview Machado reveals that there is currently a limit to how many of these invasive species can be removed from Bocas del Toro’s corner of the Caribbean Sea. He goes on to mention that if the qualified fishermen of San Cristobal had a few key tools, they could capture, stockpile and get more lionfish to market.
The group currently fishes in motorless cayucos. They do have one motored cayuco between them, however it is usually being utilized for other activities. According to Machado, if they had one more outboard motor; they could get further out, be less dependent on weather conditions, be able to bring more people in the boat and ultimately hunt more lionfish.
Unfortunately this particular village also lacks the refrigeration (and electricity) to stockpile lionfish after a big effort and to adequately keep it fresh in general. If they had a gas freezer to store lionfish, it could really help their commercial operations. It is for all these reasons that Jonathan Machado and his lionfish slaying partners are appealing to the community with the goal of obtaining an outboard boat motor and a gas freezer.
Wasteless World and local lionfish hunting fishermen have teamed up to organize two lionfish hunting events this month, along with a fundraising campaign to raise $3,000 in order to purchase an outboard motor and gas freezer. First there will be a mini lionfish tournament on March 12 with the award ceremony and a raffle of prizes at La Neta Caribe in Selina Hostel Isla Colon. The raffle prizes:
1st Prize: a night stay for 2 at La Loma Jungle Lodge & Chocolate Farm, including 3 meals each and a tour of the cacao and permaculture farm. Value $420
2nd prize: An amazing Lionfish/Ngäbe cultural fishing experience. See how they do it, a tour for 3 people with a bilingual guide (Tom Wright, Founder of Wasteless World) where you will partake in the activity of fishing with the same indiginous fisherman on the frontline of the project, in their traditional ways, all equipment and lunch provided. Includes a delicious Lionfish ceviche at the end of tour. Value $180
3rd prize: Ngäbe Cultural tour in San Cristobal for 3 people, transport to and from San Cristobal, includes a bush walk tour of medicinal and important plants in the Ngäbe culture, a traditional tribal meal, then finished with a workshop of traditional arts and crafts.
Tickets cost $5 each or 5 tickets for $20. Tickets can be purchased by contacting Wasteless World through instagram @waste.less.world or Whatsapp +61435080875
There will be a larger lionfish tournament in San Cristobal on April 1, 2022, complete with typical food and a cultural fair of sorts presented by the people of San Cristobal.
“The biggest challenge that we currently face are around the logistics enabling us to bring a larger amount of this fish to the market. By allowing more fishermen to be a part of the program and giving the tools they need to do so effectively, we know we could be taking more than twice the amount of Lionfish out of the water and simultaneously supporting our local communities and biodiversity.” – Wasteless World
Editor’s Note: Every lionfish in Bocas article is not complete without a mention of Joan Crabtree of the Cosmic Crab who has been serving up “the enemy” since 2017. Special mention Steve Bender and his “Focus on Bocas” initiatives and his efforts on helping to commercialize lionfish for the benefit of the community and the environment. Lionfish is now available for purchase at Super Gourmet and Sabroso Meats, as well as served by The Floating Bar, Bibis on the Beach, Bocas Sushi, La Neta Caribe and Cosmic Crab. Let’s work as a community to make this longer!