The coral reefs surrounding the tiny island chain in the northern Bahamas known as Bimini are no stranger to the devastating appetite of lionfish. These invasive fish are found on the reefs, wrecks and even in the marinas throughout the islands. Divers are encouraged to spear these delicate monsters and once a year, Bimini Sands Resort & Marina plays host to an event which promotes the removal of as many lionfish as possible, all in the name of charity and conservation.
James “ Woody” Beckham grew up diving and fishing around Bimini and has not let a 2011 paralyzing rugby injury alter his love for these amazing, ”Islands in the Stream.” The Woody Foundation was born out a need for better rehabilitation tools and supplies for people with spinal cord injuries. The 3rd Annual Lionfish Bash brings together Woody’s love of Bimini, passion for helping people and the spirit of competition.
Spearfishing while on Scuba or with spearguns is illegal in the Bahamas, so all anglers in the competition must freedive and use Hawaiian slings or pole spears. This is easier said than done and adding to the challenge is the venomous spines of the lionfish. Divers must be extremely careful when spearing and handling the fish. Different techniques and pieces of equipment have been developed for efficiently and safely collecting and removing the animals from the ocean; buckets, bags and gloves are all used in various creative forms.
Lionfish are found on shallow reefs and deeper wrecks, offering challenges and opportunities for anyone who wants to participate. It may seem drastic to encourage such aggressive removal of these animals, but the devastating impact they have on the coral reefs in the Caribbean are unrivaled. With no natural predators, removal by divers is critical in keeping some control on the exploding population. These fish can breed year round and eat pretty much anything smaller than they are, making them an extremely well equipped adversary.
The fish removed do not go to waste, as they are quite tasty, finding their way onto more and more menus throughout the Caribbean. I recommend lionfish tacos. The larger fish caught during the bash were filleted and served at the awards dinner, while the rest were stored as bait for shark dives offered by the resort’s activities department.
In total the 338 fish were removed with the smallest weighing in at .033 oz and the largest at 38.65 oz (2.42 lbs). CJ Crooks, from Team Sharklab, wrangled both of these winners and both were bash records. Returning champions Team G & R from Miami, collected 207 lionfish another bash record. 11-year-old angler Gabriela Alvarez took the junior angler title with her 27.95 oz (1.75 lbs) fish. Team Sharklab took 2nd place with 79 fish and the three year total broke 1000 with 1001 fish removed from Bimini.
Both serious spearos and supporters of the cause always have a blast in Bimini. Despite the weather being less than ideal the teams rallied and broke records. Charity, competition and conservation bringing people together in Bimini; it really is, “better in the Bahamas.”