Lionfish Tournaments: Safety Tips

Lionfish tournaments and collection derbies have risen in popularity in an attempt to manage the growing populations of the invasive species. In the heat of the battle, whether for glory, prizes or recognition, divers can lose focus on what's most important: safe diving practices. If you plan to dive in one of these tournaments, keep these tips in mind to help keep you safe.

Maintain a healthy respect. Don't forget that lionfish are hazardous marine life. Many people underestimate the threat of a lionfish envenomation. While rarely fatal, lionfish envenomation can cause extreme pain.

Communication is key. As with any dive activity, communication is absolutely essential, particularly when handling hazardous marine life. Be sure to actively communicate with your buddy every step of the way. Prior to diving, discuss hand signals relevant to your activity, including signals for handing off lines or collection bags and alerting your buddy to an injury. Effective communication is always a fundamental element of safe diving.

Be prepared. If you have little or no experience catching lionfish, make sure you go through the appropriate instruction on how to safely capture and handle them.

Know your gear. While leather gloves may provide some protection against scrapes, lionfish spines can still go through them. In addition, use appropriate collection equipment and adhere to any safety precautions particular to that equipment. For instance, if you are using a spear gun, follow established safety protocols; do not deviate as it may result in injury.

Know how to respond. Be prepared to handle the sting; seek training in hazardous marine life first aid and make sure you have first aid essentials on hand, such as hot water to irrigate and immerse the affected area. You should also have tweezers to remove foreign material, such as spines, and the appropriate materials to clean a wound. Should an injury occur, leave the wound open and seek medical care. Wounds may become infected and antibiotics may be necessary. It is important to note that lionfish spines still pose a hazard even after the fish is dead.

Should a sting occur while diving, do not panic. Make a controlled, safe ascent and administer first aid on the boat.

Know your limits. Do not dive beyond your training or physical abilities. Don't push the boundaries or ignore decompression limits; no prize is worth risking your safety. Keep an eye on your gas and depth gauges; make sure you follow your tables and that your surface intervals are sufficiently long.

Maintain awareness. Always be aware of where your catch is, particularly when coordinating with your buddy. Be conscientious of the marine habitat, so as not to cause any damage to reefs while participating in a collection tournament. Maintain awareness of where lionfish are to avoid incidental contact.

Ciguatera. When it comes to the fish fry, be aware that there is some concern over whether lionfish can cause ciguatera poisoning. Reef fish can acquire a buildup of ciguatoxins through their natural diet. If consumed by humans, they can have toxic effects such as nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, slowed heart rate, itching, burning, numbness and tingling, weakness and muscle or joint pain. Symptoms of ciguatera poisoning can appear from within hours to even a few days after consuming fish. Should you experience symptoms that might indicate ciguatera after consuming lionfish, seek a medical evaluation.

Tournaments are designed to be a fun activity. If you are participating in one, keep it fun by taking extra care to remain safe; if injuries do occur, call the DAN Emergency Hotline (+1-919-684-9111) for guidance on first aid procedures.
For More Information
Marine Envenomations: Vertebrates
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