The Caribbean lionfish epidemic has been covered in FishiLeaks before, so all three of my devoted readers should be well aware of this pernicious menace. Lionfish can devour up to 80% of native fish larvae on a given patch of reef and, according to one NOAA marine biologist, could be the worst (ie, most rapacious and unstoppable) marine invaders ever. They make lake trout look downright inconsequential.
Still, I was taken aback to see a common lionfish, Pterois miles, lounging beneath a rock within fifteen minutes of my entering Utila’s waters on my first day in the Caribbean. I felt like I’d stumbled upon an infamous criminal, his face recognizable from Wanted posters, nonchalantly drinking a cup of coffee in a diner booth. Gaudy pectoral and dorsal fins betrayed the lionfish’s presence; I imagined its poisonous spines safeguarded a belly full of innocent juvenile parrotfish.
I swam back to the dock from which I’d been snorkeling and got the attention of a divemaster. I told him I’d seen a lionfish, and I told him I needed to kill it. He disappeared into the office and returned with a sort of trident, three sharp metal prongs at the end of an aluminum shaft. A long rubber strap dangled from the shaft’s other end. A small crowd gathered as he demonstrated the trident’s use: you hold the rubber strap like this, see, and pull the spear back against your forearm, stretching the strap tight. Then you just let go.
I tried it. The spear rocketed forward, propelled by the release of tension in the rubber sling. Wish me luck, I said.
I swam back to the rock wall and there was the lionfish, insouciant as ever, emboldened by the lack of predators in its non-native hemisphere. I cocked the spear and let fly from a distance, cautious of both frightening the malignant fish away and contacting its spines. The spear clattered ineffectually against the rocks; the lionfish darted several feet but, incredibly, did not flee. I fired again, missed again, and the fugitive retreated further into its rocky stronghold.
Did I hesitate, feel remorse, or dwell on the moral complexity of slaughtering an essentially blameless living thing as I pulled my spear back for my third shot? I did not.
The justly impaled invader wriggled for a moment on the tines of the trident and went still. I swam back to the dock and pulled myself aboard, cognizant that my grin was, perhaps, slightly more fierce and triumphant than was warranted by murdering a beautiful tropical fish no larger than my fist. No matter.
I got one, I said.