Cayman Islands take 'can't beat 'em, eat 'em' stance on lionfish

GEORGE TOWN:  Cayman Islands

In a reef just off the popular USS Kittiwake dive site in Grand Cayman, hunters armed with spears seek out lionfish - an invasive species so destructive that authorities want them caught and served up as a tasty dish.

With their striking pectoral fins and venomous dorsal spikes that fan out like a lion's mane, the rampant lionfish have few natural predators and eat up smaller fish, shrimp and crab that protect the reef.

The Cayman Islands are fighting back with a campaign that encourages local divers to hunt lionfish, that are numbered in the tens of thousands, so that restaurants can serve them up to tourists. Call it the "if you can't beat 'em, eat 'em" approach. Lionfish has begun to match grouper, snapper, and mahi-mahi as a delicacy in Cayman, where more than a dozen restaurants now have them on the menu.

"Boy, are they good to eat," said celebrity Spanish chef José Andrés, who went hunting during a Cayman Cookout event. "Their sweet, white meat is unbelievable as a ceviche or sautéed with fresh herbs," he said. After a diver speared one on a recent trip, a teenage girl on vacation from Texas inspected the foot-long catch approvingly.–Reuters

"I had lionfish tacos at Tukka," she said of a restaurant on the island.

Thomas Tennant, a chef for the upscale Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, now buys 120 pounds of lionfish a week from local divers at $5.50 a pound, serving diners a variety of dishes from raw, to a sandwich and a main course.

Native to the Indo-Pacific, lionfish are believed to have spread after some escaped from a private aquarium in south Florida during Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

They have since migrated throughout the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and even the eastern US seaboard as far as Rhode Island, where they die in winter.

The fish are small and only 40 percent of the body is edible meat after removing the head, spines, and bones, meaning time-consuming work for chefs.

The concept of eating them has caught on elsewhere too. A Lionfish Festival, dubbed 'Feast on the Beast' was held last month in southwest Florida with local chefs in Fort Myers cooking up 200 pounds of lionfish fillets to benefit a local charity.

There is no way to calculate the size of the invasion. "The number would be astounding," said Lad Akins, director of special projects at REEF, an ocean conservation nonprofit based in the Florida Keys.

Site densities of 3,000 lionfish in an area roughly the size of a US football field have been found in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, he said. A commercial lionfish export company, Spinion Ltd, created in the Cayman Islands in 2012, sells an average of 200 to 250 pounds a week to five local restaurants.

With rising demand, some restaurants, including Guy Harvey's, are now importing lionfish from Honduras. "We didn't have enough lionfish here to satisfy the customer," Bruno Deluche, Guy Harvey's manager, said.

Pygmy goats race in UK

London: Oxford has edged to victory over Cambridge after the two sides locked horns in east London's annual Goat Race. Two pygmy goats raced 200m at Spitalfields City Farm near the River Thames, where the university Boat Race has taken place. Hamish secured Oxford's first win in six years, defeating newcomer Hugo, who ran for Cambridge. The pair competed for an edible vegetable trophy. The current record for the course - from the farm's paddock to the stables - stands at 56 seconds.

Farm manager Mhairi Weir said: "Our goats race every single day, because they're down in the paddock during the day and then they're taken back up to the stables for their food - they're always in a rush. "If the goats choose to race at a leisurely snail's pace, then that's fine by us." Hamish, who also won last year when he represented Cambridge, and Hugo underwent health checks before the race, and are used to crowds thanks to visits from school groups, Ms Weir said.–BBC

"It's fantastic how it's caught everybody's imagination... I even got an email from ABC, American Broadcasting Company, who wanted to come and video it," she said.

Tickets for the race sold out, with all the money raised due to be used to purchase food for the farm. Last year more than £10,000 was raised, covering the food bill for an entire year.

China to 'blacklist' its unruly tourists

BEIJING: China will create a "blacklist" of its tourists who behave badly overseas, state-media reported, after several embarrassing incidents involving Chinese travelling abroad.

The country's National Tourism Administration (NTA) will keep a database of travellers who commit offences, with their names passed onto police, customs officials and even banks, the official Xinhua news agency reported Saturday. Offences that could earn obnoxious tourists a place on the blacklist include "acting antisocially on public transport, damaging private or public property, disrespecting local customs, sabotaging historical exhibits or engaging in gambling or pornographic activities," Xinhua said. People will be blacklisted for two years after they offend, it added.

China's economy has boomed over the past decade, expanding the ranks of its middle-class who are hungry for foreign travel after the country's decades of isolation in the last century.–AFP

Chinese travellers took 100 million "outbound" trips - including to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan - last year, according to official figures. But the surge of wanderlust has left some officials back home red-faced and the blacklist is the latest of China's efforts to control its citizens behaviour abroad.

Chinese tourists were reported to have outraged locals in Thailand this year by drying underwear in an airport, defecating in public and kicking a bell at a temple.

Several air rage incidents - including Chinese passengers opening emergency exit doors and throwing boiling noodles at cabin crew - have also been reported in the last year. In 2013, a Chinese sparked online outrage after he wrote his name on an ancient carving in Egypt.

The NTA said in a 64-page "Guidebook for Civilised Tourism", issued in 2013, that tourists should not pick their noses in public, pee in pools or steal airplane life jackets. Chinese travellers spent $102 billion overseas in 2012, making them the world's biggest spenders ahead of German and US tourists, according to the UN World Tourism Organization.

Woman left quadriplegic son in woods in US

PHILADELPHIA: A mother abandoned her quadriplegic son in a wooded area of a Philadelphia park for nearly a week so she could visit her boyfriend in Maryland, police said.

The 21-year-old disabled man was found by a passerby on Friday night lying on leaves and covered by blankets with his wheelchair and Bible nearby, said Philadelphia police Lieutenant John Walker. Police said the man who was abandoned in the woods is unable to talk and suffers from cerebral palsy.

Walker said authorities plan to file charges of aggravated assault and failure to care for a dependant person against the mother, whose name was not released. She is still in Maryland, Walker said. Investigators believe the quadriplegic man may have been stuck in the woods since Monday. Officials at the school he attends became alarmed when he did not attend last week, and they called the man's mother and aunt. The aunt reported the man missing on Tuesday, police said.

"This kid cannot defend himself, he cannot function at all," Walker said at a news conference. "It could have been a lot worse than it is." The man was taken to a Philadelphia hospital to be treated for dehydration and malnutrition.–Reuters