To Catch (and Eat) a Herd of Lionfish

by Carolyn Sotka

IND1011

Photo by Norbert Wu Productions

One of the worst invasive species in the entire ocean is the lionfish. Coveted as pretty aquarium fish, the lionfish has proven fatal to reef fish around the world when in the late 80’s some schmuck (or schumcks), released this poisonous Indo-Pacific native into the wild.

Lionfish have thus spread like locusts and can devour nearly 80% of a reef’s juvenile fish population within weeks of their arrival. With no natural predators, an ability to eat almost anything and live happily across a range of habitats; combined with a crazy high reproductive output (females can release 2 million eggs per year), there is virtually no end in sight to their population explosion. That is, unless you eat them.

See, the lionfish’s achilles heal is being slow – and fat. Not just fat, but obese. Clearly the endless buffet of reef has fattened up the fish – with plump, flaky white flesh ready for your plate. Seriously, they’re  one of the best eating fish there is.

Here is remarkable new footage from a dive near a sunken airplane off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, shot by Alex Fogg, a volunteer with the Coast Watch Alliance. Volunteers spearfish to help cull the local ‘herds’, which can be as dense as 200 – 1,000 lionfish per acre. Amazingly, the fish watch their brethren get speared and still just sit there, waiting to be speared – and eaten – themselves.

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Footage by CoastWatch

Harvesting lionfish is really the only way to help reduce population numbers. We need to hunt more than a quarter of the adult fish every month to make a dent on their population growth. Lionfish should absolutely be fished, and should absolutely be on menus around the world.

Check out Scuttlefish’s Owen James Burk’s article on eating invasive fish and an entire cook book on how to prepare and cook lionfish. So, ask your local seafood monger to supply the fish or get your spear and get yourself dinner! – CS

 

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