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Letter from CULL stirs debate over invasive lionfish imports

Should lionfish imports be banned in Cayman?

Cayman United Lionfish League‘s letter to the National Conservation Council last week has stirred debate about how best to protect Cayman’s reefs from the invasive predator.

Cayman 27’s Joe Avary, a CULL member and the author of that letter, presents some differing viewpoints in tonight’s report.

At Vivo Cafe and Restaurant on Northwest Point Rd, sustainability comes second only to good taste.

“The menu, the concept, the restaurant, we actually need to support the environment instead of to spoil it,” said owner Michele Zama, who is known to many of his customers by the nickname ‘Mickey.’

Sustainability is one reason he added the invasive lionfish to the mostly vegan menu at Vivo.

“The requests for lionfish are high, a lot of restaurants put it on the menu, and tourists as well, now they’re attracted by the name of lionfish and it’s something unique they can only try here in this area,” said Mr. Zama.

He said an import ban is a good idea in principle, but says local cullers can barely keep up with the growing demand for the tasty invader.

“You know, sometimes the sea is rough and no divers they can go out there and hunt for lionfish, so you just do what you do,” he said.

“There are still a lot of lionfish out there, but there’s not enough to supply all of the Cayman restaurants,” said Maria Yapelli of Spinion, Ltd.

She told Cayman 27 she disagrees with the idea of a ban on lionfish imports.

“If lionfish is not on the menu because we can’t get enough out of our own waters, they’re going to choose a local fish, a local grouper or snapper,” said Ms. Yapelli.

“We always try to encourage as many people as we can locally to cull lionfish locally,” said Mr. Zama

Mr. Zama prefers serving locally-culled lionfish, but admits importing on rare occasions. He told Cayman 27 the availability of spears from the Department of Environment is also affecting the supply of locally-sourced lionfish.

“There would be a lot of people that would love to go and hunt lionfish, but the limitation of the number of spears is actually what can put a little limitation to that,” he said.

Mr. Zama is offering a sweet deal for anyone who brings in a few of these long-spined predators.

“You bring the lionfish to me and I give you money or give you food, it’s a win-win,” he said with a laugh.

Cayman Sea Sense lists locally culled lionfish as the islands’ number one most sustainable seafood choice.

About the author

Joe Avary

Joe Avary

Joe Avary has been with Cayman 27 since 2014. He brings 20 years in television experience to the job, working hard every day to bring the people of Cayman stories that inform the public and make a difference in the community. Joe hopes his love for the Cayman Islands shines through in his informative and entertaining weather reports. If you have a story idea for Joe or just want to say hello, call him at 324-2141 or send an email to

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