Written by Doug Weibel
Lionfish – Pterois volitans.  Have you seen them while snorkeling?  This invasive species, native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, were found in Florida waters in 1985 and quickly spread throughout the Caribbean.  Without natural predators, and spawning as frequently as every four days in warmer climates, these fish have a negative impact on coral reefs where they consume seventy species of fish up to half their own size.  Their explosive growth in the Atlantic has slowed but this invasive fish is still a cause of concern for coral reef health.
One way you can reduce the Lionfish impact is by eating them and, delightfully, they are a very tasty fish.  A little knowledge and caution is needed but hunting Lionfish is an excellent introduction to spearfishing. The flesh is not poisonous or venomous but they do have eighteen venomous spines.  A Lionfish sting is described as being twenty times worse than a bee sting and should you be careless and get a sting the treatment is to remove any obvious foreign material, including any spines, and apply heat to manage pain.
Lionfish are usually hunted with a short (3’ - 5’) polespear fitted with a three or five pronged tip.  A polespear is simply a spear with a bungee loop fixed to the rear end that you loop over your thumb.  Draw the polespear back against the bungee and grasp it with the same hand.  Point it at your target, release your grip, and it will shoot forward.  With a short polespear you will need to be within a foot or so of your target but, having no natural enemies and armed with their venomous spines, Lionfish are known to be “sitting ducks”, allowing your to approach closely.  I aim for the head to preserve as much of the meat as possible but they are not a large fish so as a beginner shoot for the center body.
Great!  You just speared a Lionfish!  Now what?  Be careful of the spines and don’t wave that thing in your dive-buddy’s face.  I generally spear Lionfish one at a time and drop them off in a bucket in my dinghy, but some people swim with a “Zookeeper”, a special container that will help you safely handle multiple Lionfish.  Once you get them back to your boat grab a glove and a pair of scissors.  I don’t try to remember which of the spines are the venomous eighteen.  Rather, I carefully cut off all the fins close to the body.  Once you have disposed of the fins Lionfish are perfectly safe to handle and you can clean them like other fish.  They have tiny scales that rub right off so leave the skin on.  Smaller fish are better cooked whole; just gut them and remove either the gills or head.  Grilled, fried or baked with a little creole sauce they make a great meal!