Lionfish: Stunningly Beautiful? Yes! Devastatingly Invasive? It Depends.

What is ecologically correct, even helpful, to eat from the Atlantic Ocean – but not from the Pacific Ocean?

What in a well-made ceviche is rather firm and tastes like a cross between lobster and shrimp? What melts in your mouth, while the “butteriness” balances well with the lime juice”?   And from the grill, what is a lot like grouper?

The answer is lionfish from the Atlantic Ocean and other areas where the introduced lionfish is destroying native marine life.

According to NOAA research, the very invasive lionfish found in the Atlantic Ocean prey upon numerous species of fish and crustaceans, such as juvenile spiny lobster, wrasses, parrotfish, blennies, and other ecologically important species.   The Atlantic Ocean has very limited predators for lionfish, which inflict extremely painful venom from their spines.

Lionfish might have been introduced into Florida’s waters in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew capsized many transport boats and broke beach-side aquariums. It’s estimated that  Americans alone import thousands of the stunning lionfish every year for their aquariums, and some later release the fish in no-native waters.

Reproducing year round, lionfish have no natural enemies and an extremely high reproductive rate of 2 million eggs a year from one female.  Unsurprisingly they’ve taken over rapidly (NOAA).

A recent Oregon State University study found that in just five weeks, introduced lionfish reduced the native reef fishes by about 80 percent. The aggressive feeding of lionfish also reduces the numbers of herbivorous fishes that keep seaweeds and macro-algae from overgrowing corals.  Lionfish are also taking over snapper and grouper habitats; they hamper stock rebuilding efforts and coral reef conservation measures. Voracious eaters, lionfish grow to a foot or more long, and their stomachs can expand up to 30 times their normal size!

Because native species in the Atlantic and other waters where the lionfish have been introduced do not recognize a lionfish as a predator, the local fish don’t flee.   Lionfish can eat prey over half the size of their own body as long as it will fit into their mouths, and they eat almost anything.

The sharp spines of the lionfish contain a powerful venom: a single prick from a lionfish spine can cause days of swelling, discomfort and even paralysis. Pacific Ocean native fish know the danger, and stay away from lionfish (Smithsonian).

1024px-Red_lionfish_near_Gilli_Banta_Island

Red lionfish near Komoda in Indonesia.  Here in the Pacific Ocean, the lionfish is in balance with its marine environment because native fish know to flee when they see a lionfish.  Image from<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pterois#/media/File:Red_lionfish_near_Gilli_Banta_Island.JPG  

In the Western Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and in the Gulf of Mexico, however, where lionfish are not native and have very few predators,  environmentalists are fighting the lionfish invasion with traps, nets and spears, lionfish catching contests, recipes and cooking contests, including Bermuda’s  Eat ‘Em to Beat ‘Em , campaign. Honduras divers are trying to train sharks to eat lionfish (National Geographic).

Atlantic Ocean lionfish are now being listed as the “ultimate in guilt-free eating – delicious, nutritious and eco-conscious. “  Chefs do need to know how to cut out the poisonous spines and prepare the lionfish correctly so as not to pass on the toxins to their guests. And the fishermen need to know how to catch them without being stung.

The next time you are in Florida, you might find lionfish on the menu. It’s not cheap: in Nassau, the capital city of the Bahamas, the August Moon Restaurant and Café has been serving lionfish since 2007. Alexandra Maillis Lynch, the owner and chef, serves lionfish tempura once every two months, whenever she can convince fishermen to supply it to her. She offers fifteen to twenty dollars a pound for the exotic specialty, nearly twice as much as she pays for the more common grouper (Smithsonian).

image

Lionfish – from the Atlantic Ocean

According to Southern Living magazine article “Eat the Enemy and Enjoy Lionfish this Summer,”  “For chefs, the lionfish’s canvas-like versatility is a key strength. It’s difficult to imagine a preparation—from beer-battered, to sashimi, to vegetable-packed kebabs—that wouldn’t work.”

The story of the Atlantic Ocean lionfish is a good reminder to all of us that introducing alien species into any habitat can quickly lead to catastrophe, both for wildlife and for us.

Hunting-Lionfish

That headline isn’t completely true for all the Western Atlantic, but the lionfish are wiping out native populations of marine life.  Enhttps://lionfish.co/why-are-lionfish-a-problem/ter a caption

Remember, our Pacific Ocean lionfish are part of the diversity of our waters – and they should NOT be eaten.

But consuming the Atlantic Ocean lionfish means you are helping the native fish and the commercial fishermen!

Aloha, Renée

Information from: < https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/invasion-of-the-lionfish-131647135/> and information and photo from: <http://www.habitat.noaa.gov/pdf/best_management_practices/fact_sheets/Lionfish%20Factsheet.pdf>

Banner from: http://www.groupersandwich.com/news/2015/07/lionfish-now-available/

 

 

 

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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

One response to “Lionfish: Stunningly Beautiful? Yes! Devastatingly Invasive? It Depends.”

  1. Rosita says :

    interesting post. where I come from, Brasil, da lionfish has been an increasing problem in southeastern and northeastern coasts, particularly on da latter, ’cause of its warm seas, as it’s technically a part of Caribbean, even tho not Brasil is not officially recognized as being a Caribbean nation. anyway, lionfish is said to be devastating to coral reefs, specially here, since it don’t has natural predators – except for us, humans, if we are intrepid enough to eat a venomous fish -, and, honestly, I didn’t even knew it was edible 😯 it’s a surprise for meh. I’m not vegan, as u knows, and I must confess I love eating fish, don’t hate meh, but I don’t know if I’d eat dis one, as it’s known to be venomous. PS: I’ve actually saw a lionfish while swimming in a beach at Fortaleza, but it didn’t poison me ‘cause it was a bright, sunny day, which increased da water visibility. if it was on a rainy or cloudy day, I could easily have been poisoned, as it diminishes water visibility. personally, at my city, we don’t see such fishes as we live at middle of Amazonia. have yuh saw any lionfish there in Hawaii? also, do yuh have any extremely dangerous marine life there in Hawaii, yet almost unknown by tourists?
    Hope y’all are fine,
    R

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