Deadly. Destructive. Delicious?
Within the past decade, highly-venomous lionfish have invaded Western Atlantic waters, permanently threatening native fish populations. These exotic fish from the Indo-Pacific were accidentally introduced into this new environment, where they have no natural predators, making it easy for them to hunt and kill indigenous species including shrimp, grouper, and snapper, while competing against or crowding out other native predators. While experts argue over the best way to curb the lionfish threat, the answer may be fairly simple – eat it.
The Andrew Six
According to one popular theory, these unwelcome intruders were first introduced when Hurricane Andrew hit Southern Florida in 1992 and destroyed a waterfront aquarium in Miami, releasing six lionfish into Biscayne Bay. Others believe it’s more likely due to a worker in the aquarium trade that released the fish or eggs into the wild. Either way, lionfish began to spawn rapidly after introduced, catching regional currents and spreading up the east coast of the US, through the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Nobody knows the exact number now living in these non-native waters or the complete impact they are having on other fish populations, though most everyone now agrees that some sort of intervention is required before it’s too late.
Realizing the acute threat posed by what might be the most devastating marine invasion in history, divers, anglers, government, and environmental organizations have banded together. Lionfish hunting tournaments, some with cash prizes, have helped capture thousands of the voracious predators in affected areas.
Still though, it’s not enough.
Luckily, lionfish filets are very edible, with a mild taste and texture. While the fish do have sharp, venomous spines which can cause pain, headaches, vomiting, and breathing difficulties in humans, the venom can be neutralized through cooking or by simply removing the spines. This has led the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to start the “Eat Lionfish” campaign, hoping to start a market for the fish by encouraging seafood consumers to make a responsible and tasty choice. The campaign has organized lionfish tastings across the US with top chefs sharing recipes and preparation techniques, hoping diners can overcome any biases they may hold against the odd-looking fish.
Unlike other fish species, there is no risk of overfishing lionfish. In fact, NOAA hopes we will do just that. It’s possible struggling fishing communities could even benefit from new income brought in through catching lionfish.
So, do your part – eat a sustainable fish and save the ocean. Eat lionfish!
Would you eat lionfish?
Calorie Count co-founder Erik Fantasia and his girlfriend, Heather Curtis, are currently traveling through South America as part of a trip around the world. You can follow their adventures online with Facebook and their blog.