The League, which organizes regular culling tournaments and has collectively killed thousands of lionfish, has written to the National Conservation Council asking it to consider a ban on imports.
“When restaurants import lionfish from other jurisdictions, it artificially depresses the market price of the fish.
“CULL believes if the Cayman Islands would enact a ban on the importation of lionfish, the market price for locally culled lionfish would rise. This would boost the financial incentive for divers and snorkelers to undertake the risks inherent in hunting these invasive pests,” said Cull member Joel Avary in a letter to the council.
In an interview with the Cayman Compass newspaper, Avary said “When restaurants import lionfish from other jurisdictions, it artificially depresses the market price of the fish.
“CULL believes if the Cayman Islands would enact a ban on the importation of lionfish, the market price for locally culled lionfish would rise. This would boost the financial incentive for divers and snorkelers to undertake the risks inherent in hunting these invasive pests,” he said.
HOwever, the move is opposed by local chefs, who say they need to buffer the dwindling local supply with imported fillets in order to keep lionfish on the menus and the issue in the public eye.
Avary says a small rise in price would create the additional economic incentive for people to make a business out of targeting the species for sale locally.
According to Ron Hargrave, who runs restaurant and was one of the first chefs to put lionfish on the menu, said a ban on imports would be counterproductive.
He said cullers were simply not supplying enough lionfish to make it a viable option for restaurants without additional imports.
“We’ve been doing this for seven years and we have never refused to buy a locally caught lionfish. Divers are not seeing as many lionfish here as they used to, and we are not getting the same supply. We can’t just take it on and off the menu.”
He said the US$5-a-head price in Cayman is already twice the price of fillets imported from elsewhere in the region.
Some cullers such as Steve Broadbelt agree that imports are necessary and says the country’s culling efforts have been extremely successful, and far fewer lionfish are being seen on the islands’ reefs than was the case three years ago.
“It is still important that we keep culling. They are like weeds in a garden. You can’t let up or they will come back. But if you ban imports and restaurants start taking them off the menu, then the customers will lose interest and we will have a bigger problem.”
He added that importing lionfish from the Caribbean region actually helps the Cayman Islands in the long run.
“We are getting on top of the problem on our own reefs, but this is a regional problem that needs a regional solution.If we don’t have effective culling all over the Caribbean, they will keep coming back.”
Over the years, the lionfish, an invasive marine species, has spread rapidly across Caribbean, seriously threatening coral reefs.
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