By ANNE CANALP
Amateur spear fisherman Raşit Dağyaran said he and Aytuğ Özoktay had decided to do their own cull after calls for local action, adding: "We shot them all from a minimum distance of one metre and will be trying the taste for the first time."
Biologist and marine researcher Robin Snape said: "They [the divers] are the only predators of the lionfish – we should all be eating it!"
Recommendations at a February regional workshop in Antalya for 50 experts, including North Cyprus academics Burak Ali Çiçek and Fatih Hüseyinoğlu, proposed an urgent national plan for all eastern Mediterranean states to combat the invasive species.
Experts announced that lionfish had now established self-sustaining populations all the way up to Antalya and posed more of a threat than the invasive puffer fish.
They recommended increased monitoring, examination of the aquarium trade and a review of legislation on invasive species alongside a spear fishing drive, public awareness campaign, more protection for the grouper, which feeds on juvenile lionfish, and better regional collaboration.
Mr Snape said the first local sighting was by TRNC Marine and Fisheries Research Foundation and Lefke university professor Işık Oray, who raised the alarm in 2015.
He added: "Apart from the danger of their venomous spines, they are voracious eaters of fish, fish eggs and larvae, breed much faster than native fish and are found in both deep and shallow waters."
Painful stings from up to 18 spines on dorsal, pelvic and anal fins may require medical attention for swelling, blistering, dizziness, necrosis and even temporary paralysis.
If stung, the wound should be immersed in hot water for 30 to 90 minutes to deactivate the poison.
However the fish is edible if prepared correctly, and Mr Snape said: "We should look to Florida where they organise contests and 'derbies' and it is promoted as a delicacy."
The white meat is described as similar to a thin grouper fillet and recommended for raw specialities çeviche or sashimi as well as as a replacement for other white fish recipes.
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