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Rachel mentioned that people are a bit scared of lionfish, because they have venomous spines. Their flesh isn't poisonous, so they're completely safe to eat, but when they're alive, the spines can cause a lot of pain. Rachel told us what it's like to be stung by a lionfish.
I haven't had a really bad sting in a couple years. If you see me holding what looks like a shish kebab with fish stacked up on it, that's called a stringer. It's a steel pole. I used to spear my fish in the water and then put them on that stringer and swim around in the water with that. I would get stung all the time. A full-on sting usually happens in the water, and they have a gland at the base of the spine, and the venom comes from there. If you get the full-on sting in the water, chances are you got a lot of venom, and you're going to be pretty miserable the next couple days.
It's the most horrific pain in the entire world. I don't have children, but I have friends that have compared it to childbirth. It's a protein-based neurotoxin that goes into your joints. So, if you get stung on say the tip of your index finger, first it's going to go into that first little joint, and then it's going to go into your knuckle, and then it's going to go into where your finger meets your hand, and then it's going to go into your wrist, and then it's going to go up to your elbow, and then it's going to go to your shoulder, and in your joints it feels like the joint is expanding from the inside-out.
It feels like it's swelling, and you would think to look down at your wrist and just see a giant ball there. It's a dull pain, it's not a sharp pain. It's awful, it's horrible.
Heat will denature the neurotoxin, but by the time you come up from a dive and get on a boat and have access to hot water to soak it in, by that point the toxin has moved so far away from the location of the sting that it's not going to do you a whole lot of good.
Once the fish is dead, that gland becomes inactive. So, if you're cleaning the fish or handling the fish on a boat, you don't get a sting. You get what we call a prick, and that's like a bee sting. That's just a tiny little bit amount of venom.
What is the big plastic tube full of fish in your photos?
I'd been spearing lionfish for maybe a year, and I had heard about this plastic tube called a Zookeeper, and I'd seen pictures of it online. It looks like a plastic garbage can, and you swim around with it, and you spear your fish and you put them in that while you're diving.
And I thought, god, that's got to be so heavy, and it's got to have so much drag on it, like what a pain in the ass, that thing looks like it sucks, and I'm on a boat one day with this younger kid. He's like in his early 20s. His name's Johnny, and he tells me he's from this island called Curacao, which is off the coast of Venezuela, down near Aruba. He keeps showing up on this boat over and over again, and we keep diving together, and we become friends.
We're having a conversation one night, and somebody said something about Zookeepers, and I'm like, “I don't think I would like to swim around in the water with one, and they're really expensive.” And Johnny says, “Well, you know, I could probably get you one pretty cheap, if you wanted to try it out.” And I'm like, “No, no, I'm fine.” Six months later, I find out Johnny has been commercially harvesting lionfish since he was 8 years old, because Curacao was way ahead of the United States in the lionfish invasion, and Johnny's uncle is the guy that invented the Zookeepers.
His uncle has built me, now, two custom Zookeepers that are absolutely enormous. They each hold 80 pounds, and I get in the water with them in a heartbeat and spend all day swimming around with them. [Before the Zookeeper,] I was getting out of the water with 15 pounds of fish. Now I can get out of the water with 80 pounds of fish. Since using the Zookeeper, I haven't had a sting.
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