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Safe Handling

General remarks:

  • Lionfish stings can occur even when the fish is dead.
  • The majority of accidents result from people not paying attention
  • There are 18 venomous spines on the fish: 13 of them are located along the spine in the dorsal fins, one short spine in the leading edge of each of the pelvic fins and three short spines in the leading edge of the anal fin.

 

Safety tips:

Handling underwater:

For bathers

  • Watch where you step and avoid walking on rocky substrata: Lionfish prefer rocky substratum and they are almost never found over sand. Lionfish are rare in shallow waters, so it is unlikely that you encounter one, but in any case, try to watch where you step especially over rocks or boulders.

For recreational divers

  • Keep a safe distance: If you are snorkeling or diving recreationally you can observe and photograph the slow-moving lionfish but keep a safe distance of at least a foot.
  • Follow safety rules when diving: Keep your eyes open during your entry or exit from a beach dive, and when underwater take care when entering dark caves, crevices and wrecks. These narrow, low light environments are preferred by the lionfish, usually on the roof, in an upside-down position, not easily seen by a diver as they are literally on top of your head. Illuminate the area and enter with care or avoid entering. Further, it is always useful to keep a properly equipped first aid kit and emergency oxygen available.

For lionfish hunters

  • Use a simple pole spear: Because the lionfish doesn’t seem to have any native predators they stand their ground and will allow you to get close, thus complex and powerful spearguns are not needed for hunting the lionfish.
  • Use of puncture-proof container: Avoid handling the lionfish underwater to remove from the spear or to trim the lionfish spines. If the fish is still alive it can suddenly move. It is much easier and faster after spearing the lionfish to simply insert it into the container without getting in direct contact with the fish when underwater.
  • Use puncture-resistant gloves for handling lionfish: The gloves are very useful especially when picking lionfish, however, contact should be avoided. As a rule of thumb, DO NOT TO TOUCH THE LIONFISH while you are underwater.

Handling out of the water:

  • Keep your gloves on!
  • Hold the fish by its head and avoid contact with the hard spine tips.
  • Cut all hard spines with a sharp fillet knife or sharp kitchen scissors: The spines to be most aware of are the long dorsal spines along the back of the fish. If you use a knife begin removing the dorsal spines by cutting into the flesh along each side of the row of spines moving towards the tail. After loosening the spines pry them off completely. Remove the venomous anal spines and pelvic spines by cutting from the base. Then, if you wish to remove the remaining non-venomous cartilaginous fins to reduce any chance of mistaken venomous spines. Otherwise, use the scissors in the aforementioned order.
  • The scales on the lionfish are small and easily removed in the usual way.
  • Fillet the fish as usual.
  • Enjoy cooking and eating!

 

First Aid Procedures in case of a sting

  • If you are “stung” by a lionfish: DONT PANIC! The pain does not come on immediately and the venom takes some minutes to act. The throbbing, intense pain lasts for a few hours and will decrease for the next hours and will likely not last for over a day.
  • If underwater, call the dive and surface safely.
  • Check for any obvious pieces of spine left in the wound. Remove gently if possible.
  • Clean and disinfect the wound. If first kit available use antiseptic towelettes and apply antibiotic ointment.
  • If bleeding, apply direct pressure to the wound to stop the bleeding.
  • Pre-treatment includes applying heat to the wound to denature the venom, which is protein-based. Apply heat, to the individual levels of tolerance directly to the wound without scalding or burning the skin. Soak for at least 30 minutes and as long as desired. Keep a thermos with hot water or use an instant heat pack.
  • Take usual painkillers.
  • Most people do not seek medical attention, but we recommend that you do. Severe pain can cause shock, which may involve shortness of breath, fainting and cardiac arrest. People that are diabetics and have weakened immune systems may react badly to the venom. People that are allergic to the venom may go into anaphylactic shock. The injury may become infected.