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The Atlantic coastline has become the new Wild West, or at least that’s what the bizarre marketing campaigns launched against the non-native lionfish would lead us to believe. Lionfish have become such a threat to the ecosystems and fishing industry along the Atlantic that even their institutional allies have turned against them.
Lionfish are native to the south pacific, but since the early ‘90s their numbers here have boomed. In the Atlantic, these maroon and white striped fish have no natural enemies, and their plump bodies are protected by long venomous spines. They are drawing concern not only because they breed fast and in large numbers, but because of their appetite; lionfish are essentially colorful, roaming eating machines.
In response, various groups have begun organizing hunting expeditions called lionfish rodeos. The events are one part environmental project, one part underwater cowboy adventure.
In these increasingly popular hunts, gangs of motorboat divers compete in a marathon of spearfishing. A talented diver can spear over one thousand in a single day. The groups say the hunts make a dent in the lionfish population and help promote the light, flakey meat as an east coast delicacy, but it probably doesn’t hurt the turnout that the winner goes home with a several thousand-dollar cash prize.