You may not be aware of it, but since 2010 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has made numerous battle calls to fishermen and divers to hunt down a gorgeous species of oceanic creatures – the lionfish. To mobilize the battle call, NOAA launched the “Lionfish as Food” campaign to encourage public consumption of the fish.
Why would an institution that is in charge of the preservation of all things oceanic so keen on turning this beautiful creature into another cuisine?
Here’s is why-
Lionfish is non-native and aggressively spreading
The call is necessary and in fact critical as the fish is an introduced species that is spreading aggressively in the gulf and Caribbean regions. Lack of natural predators, these natives of Indo-Pacific have gained dominance in the coastal waters of Atlantic from Louisiana, Florida to North Carolina.
In less than a decade, six escapees from a Florida aquarium during the 1992 Hurricane Andrew have resulted in the fish population second in numbers only to scamp grouper among the grouper family. NOAA and the fishery authority have conceded the lionfish is here to stay in the Atlantic coastal water. Controlling the population from exploding is crucial and no other known method is as effective as eating the invasive species.
Lionfish is devouring the native species
This species are excellent hunters with swift and powerful motion capable of swallowing prey in one single move. In addition to small fish, they consumed invertebrates and mollusks in significant quantity.
They hunt most aggressively from 7am until 11am, up to 6 different species of prey have been found in the stomach of lionfish. According to a study conducted, a single adult fish is capable of diminished young reef fish dwelling by an astonishing rate of 79%.
Their spread in the Atlantic coastal waters is worrying to the administration as left unchecked, they are capable of overpopulating the delicate reef areas, devouring and driving native species to less desirable habitat. 80% of the Atlantic atoll diversity could be jeopardized and lead to a disastrous trophic cascade effect in the food chain.
Lionfish supplement overfished stocks
The abundance of the species made it an ideal alternate fish to supplement the overfished species such as snapper and grouper. The meat is safe for consumption when properly filleted but their fins are venomous.
Lionfish is similar in taste and texture to grouper. Light, flaky, “delicious, delicately flavored fish” according to NOAA description and those who have sampled this alternate food source.
Chefs working in conjunction with NOAA have developed recipes for ceviche, deep frying, grilling, jerky, and Sashimi. Lionfish recipes are easily available on the internet now.
Lionfish supplement the income of fishermen and divers
Harvesting the species not only give a breather to the local fish, it supplements the income of fishermen and perhaps provide an alternative activity for divers.
So tuck in a plate of lionfish whenever you have the opportunity, you are giving the poor grouper or snapper a helping hand! You can be assured of the fish is not farmed but as free range as possible!