Animal rights activists converged on Blacktip Island Friday to protest the Caribbean island’s traditional spring Hunting of the Lionfish.
“These yahoos have turned population control into a blood sport,” Blacktip Island People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals president Harry Pickett said. “Lionfish are part of the ecosystem now, like it or not, and these barbarians are inflicting unnecessary suffering for the sake of entertainment.”
Hunt organizers rushed to defend the Hunt as a means to combat the invasive red lionfish that have overwhelmed Blacktip Island’s reefs.
“It’s not barbaric, it’s pest control,” Hunt Master Jay Valve said. “Lionfish are vermin. If they eat all our reef fish, what happens to our tourism product?”
“The Hunt maximizes limited resources,” said Red Reynard, the Hunt’s Master of the Grouper. “There were too many lionfish and not enough divers, or bottom time, to keep them in check.
“We turned the tables by importing specially-trained English scent-groupers to chase them down,” Reynard said. “We loose the grouper, have our whippers-in shoo them in the right direction, and the hunters follow on underwater scooters, gigging any stripeys that go to ground.”
The use of grouper draws the most criticism.
“Proper wildlife management procedure is to simply spear the lionfish, one by one, not chase them across the reef and let big fish tear them to shreds,” PETA’s Pickett said.
Other opponents leveled harsher criticism.
“The Hunt is morally wrong,” Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Piscines member Edwin Chub said. “Lionfish have a right to life, just as any other fish. And these allegedly-trained grouper are indiscriminate. They kill parrotfish, squirrelfish, anything that doesn’t get out of their way fast enough.”
Island authorities are urging caution from protestors and hunters after an attempt to disrupt last year’s hunt went awry.
“The SPCP people dressed as lionfish, rubbed fish guts all over themselves, then scuba dived through the middle of the chase,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “It was mayhem, with chunks of flesh and lionfish costume flying everywhere.
“The hunters made it worse, goading on the grouper with those underwater horns hooked up to power inflators.”
“We were lawfully monitoring the Hunt for animal cruelty,” Chub said. “Our attorneys are still pursuing aggravated assault charges.”
“Those fish hippies had it coming,” Reynard said, “but it was frightening to see what a pack of hunting grouper can do to an unsuspecting diver. The same will happen this year, too, if they vex us again.”