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November 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 30, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Lionfish Hunter

from the November, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Allie ElHage knows what it's like to be stung on his hand by a lionfish while scuba diving. "It felt like someone was pushing a red hot iron up my right arm," says the Sarasota, FL-based entrepreneur. He is the creator of the ZooKeeper, now a must-have accessory for any spear fisherman hunting the lionfish. Nonprofit organizations in Florida, such as Mote Marine Laboratory and the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, have promoted the device while sponsoring lionfish eradication derbies attended by hundreds of divers, chefs and foodies.

ElHage, who grew up in Curaçao, says friends there invited him to dive for lionfish in October 2010. But they were vulnerable to getting stung by spines because they were using a mesh bag and a birdcage to contain the fish they had speared. "So I went to Curaçao's version of Home Depot, walked the aisles and I put a ZooKeeper together," ElHage says.

The first version failed, but many versions later, the patent-pending ZooKeeper has a funnel that lets divers stuff the fish into a large cylindrical container and a water-displacement mechanism so the fish don't flush out when divers stuff the tube.

"In 2012, I sold about 100 units," ElHage says. "This year, I've sold more than 2,300. Prices range from $115 to $210, depending on size. He sells through dive shops, distributing the ZooKeeper through Trident Dive Equipment and Innovative Scuba Concepts.

ElHage tells users that a ZooKeeper doesn't guarantee they won't get stung. Ironically, he was using a ZooKeeper when he was stung. Like most stings that result from diver error, he had stuffed his ZooKeeper beyond the limits, and some venomous spines were sticking out of the tube just enough to sting him. After a tetanus shot and a six-day treatment of steroids, he was ready to dive again.

-- Jean Gruss, Florida Business Observer

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