Tools of the Trade

The unique behaviors and physical features of the lionfish set them apart from other types of fish. First, because they have no natural predators in their invasive habitat, lionfish are generally unafraid of humans and allow divers to get extremely close. When a diver does approach a lionfish, he tends to move so his broad side is facing the perceived threat (the diver!). This behavior is supposed to highlight his venomous spines and deter any larger predator from trying to eat him. Fortunately, we’re not trying to eat them (at least, not right away), so this behavior actually just makes a larger target for spearing. Additionally, lionfish are stalking predators, meaning they tend to hover motionless while they search for prey. This essentially makes lionfish sitting ducks…good news for lionfish hunters. All of these traits combined make lionfish hunting a surprisingly easy and fun activity, as long as you have the right gear to do it safely and effectively. Here’s a summary of the tools every aspiring lionfish hunter needs to have in order to get the job done.

Spears: Although there are a number of spears available for divers, the most popular spear used for lionfish hunting is the polespear, followed by the Hawaiian sling. A polespear (also known as a hand spear) consists of a pole, a spear tip, and a rubber loop. The poles are anywhere from 2 ½ to 10 ft long, and are typically made of fiberglass or aluminum. Since lionfish prefer to live under the protection of rock overhangs or wrecks, shorter poles are often preferred because they can more easily be used in tight spaces. Although single tip spears are available, three-pronged tips are preferred when dealing with lionfish because it prevents the fish from sliding down the spear towards the diver’s hand, putting him or her in danger of getting stung.

Weapon of choice for lionfish hunting- short, 3-pronged polespear. Photo credit:

Hawaiian slings are similar, but unlike a polespear the handle and the shaft are separate. It is often described as an underwater bow and arrow. Hawaiian slings are more powerful than pole spears, but not as powerful as spear guns, and are often used by more experienced spear fishermen.

Close up view of a Hawaiian sling handle. Photo credit:

Holding containers: Lionfish spines are razor sharp and can pierce through many materials, making containing them difficult. Since the lionfish invasion, many different types of holding bags have been developed or modified to better accommodate lionfish. One of the most popular bags is a modified thick plastic lobster bag with a one-way valve. Divers can insert their spears directly into the bag, release the lionfish, and retract their spear without ever having to touch the fish. The flap prevents the lionfish from swimming out, although care must be taken when inserting multiple lionfish into the same bag, as a captured lionfish can sneak out when you’re attempting to insert another one. A similar holding container utilizes a one-way valve, but is made of thick PVC pipe rather than plastic. Although this decreases the diver’s risk of getting stung by a stray spine, the container is heavier and increases the diver’s drag underwater. Mostly, holding container choice among divers comes down to personal preference.

A lionfish holding bag. Photo credit:

Gloves & Other Accessories: Many divers choose to use puncture- resistant gloves to protect themselves against lionfish spines. These gloves were designed for those in the medical field looking to protect themselves from needles and other sharp objects. The puncture-resistant fabric covers the palm, so no protection is offered to other parts of the hand or arm, but are a good tool to decrease risk when handling the lionfish, especially after you ascend and return to shore. Many, many stings occur when divers are handling lionfish on the boat after a dive or filleting them to eat later. Because of this, some divers also choose to use stainless steel diving shears to simply snip the spines off after catching the lionfish and avoid the risk altogether. This process, however, can be difficult underwater and is incredibly time consuming, so most divers wait until after the dive to trim the spines.

Puncture-proof gloves. First thing I bought for myself! Photo credit:

There are many different methods for capturing lionfish, and every diver has their own opinions regarding the most effective gear, as well as the best way to hunt and prepare lionfish. As the invasion continues, innovative methods are being developed to more effectively target lionfish while reducing risk to the diver. When used correctly, the gear currently available is a safe and adrenaline- inducing way to target lionfish. Plus, with the added benefit to the reef, it’s no wonder than more and more divers are turning to lionfish hunting to add a new element of excitement to their dives!