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May 13, 2022

Lionfish Chat with Anthony Valiulis of Netless Catch

Anthony Valiulis with local Belizean Fisherman

Anthony is currently the Chief Supply Officer of Netless Catch where the focus is on combating the invasive species of lionfish throughout the Caribbean. In the last 5 months, they have removed more than 10,000 lionfish, saving millions of reef fish.

Can you tell us about yourself and how it led to the work you do? 

I am Anthony Valiulis and the Co-Founder of Netless Catch. We are a company focused on promoting and selling seafood that does good for the ocean starting with lionfish. I came to be doing this because of a trip I took to Belize 5 years ago where I volunteered with ReefCI, and focused on hunting and surveying lionfish. When I left though, I realized that while Belize was doing a great job combating lionfish, there was so much more that could be done in the space. 5 years later during COVID-19, I realized that creating an export market for lionfish would be a solution to help Belize and combat lionfish. 

How do you see your company positively impacting Belize’s marine environment?

We hope to positively impact Belize’s marine environment by protecting and restoring the ecosystem. We do this by promoting products that will be helpful to our ocean. With lionfish being an invasive species, they are harming the ecosystem and by removing them, we can help keep the reef safe and clean. We don’t want to stop there though, we want to focus on other products that can help provide livelihoods for fishermen, while also restoring our ocean such as putting a focus on seaweed and bivalves.

Belizean fisherman looking forward to a day at sea catching Lionfish

Now the big question is WHY Belize? 

Belize is a country that has always amazed me from the first time I went there 7 years ago to now. One, is because of the amazing reef system that Belize has but secondly and more importantly, it’s the people. Belizeans have a real understanding of what the ocean means for them and for the next generation. Being a leader in sustainability in the Caribbean and focusing on ethical fishing practices, it was an obvious choice as I think Belize can be the same.

Do you partner with any local entities? How did these partnerships come to be and how have they helped you accomplish your goals?

Yes, we are partnered currently with National Fishermen Cooperative, we have also been doing some work with Blue Ventures and ReefCI. I met ReefCI when I volunteered, and they have been very helpful with their vast knowledge of lionfish hunting. I had the opportunity to meet the Blue Ventures team on one of my trips to Belize and they had been working to start a lionfish fishery, so it was a perfect fit. Blue Ventures was the organization that also introduced us to the National Fishermen Cooperative, and we couldn’t be happier to be working with them and their fishermen to catch lionfish.

Northern Fishermen Co-operative – Mango Creek Receiving Center in the South

How have you worked to make use of more than just the fins, but also the entire lionfish? 

While we are focused on selling lionfish as a food product, we have goals to find ways to use the whole fish such as selling the fins to jewelry makers like BelionessBelize Lionfish Jewelry, and finding unique ways to use all the fish.

Lionfish jewelry from Belioness

We know it’s a new kickstart, tell us how the customer reception has been so far?

Reception from customers has been great so far! We are finding that once you explain lionfish to customers who have never heard of it and you explain why it is important to care, they are very receptive to trying it and even promoting it in their restaurants or stores. We have come to notice the importance of sustainability to buyers in the U.S. when it comes to seafood, and lionfish really hits on all those major.

What areas do you now supply lionfish meat to?

Presently, we are supplying restaurants and retailers in the United States with lionfish however as we scale, we hope to be able to supply it to the average person so that anyone and everyone who wants to protect the reefs by eating lionfish, can.

Lionfish Tacos

Do you have any bigger plans for the future of Netless Catch?

Absolutely! We see lionfish as just the start of restorative seafood products we want to offer from Belize. We also want the country to be a model that can be expanded throughout the Caribbean and help transform the way we think about artisanal fishing in the region!  

Belizean Pride packaged Lionfish