Usually, when people decide to make fish for dinner, they might make salmon, tuna or swordfish perhaps. If you were to survey a hundred people’s favorite fish, I would be surprised if even one of them named lionfish as their favorite. Most people know them only as a dangerous, venomous fish that should be avoided at all costs. However, nothing satisfies my palate like this venomous invasive species.
Lionfish were unfortunately introduced to marine ecosystems by aquarium hobbyists who didn’t want to keep their fish any longer. This quickly became a MAJOR problem considering that lionfish are the perfect invasive species. For instance: they reproduce very quickly, they have no natural predators in the Atlantic ocean, they deploy venom through their spines to keep other fish away, eat small reef fish, meaning all trophic levels of the food web are negatively affected by their presence, and if that’s not all, they are pretty hardy fish that can thrive in a wide range of depths, pH, and temperatures (according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.) These fish alone are contributing to a massive reduction in the overall biomass of reefs in Florida and the Caribbean.
What is the solution to this problem? Eat them. Eat them all. The meat isn’t venomous and can be eaten without a problem. It’s the spines that are dangerous and can easily be removed before eating. Lionfish are small fish and low in the trophic levels, meaning they have low concentrations of heavy metals like mercury, and likely a high selenium therapeutic index, which detoxifies heavy metals. They also taste great and are rich in protein and omega-3.
I asked my friend Kabir Parker, a marine biologist and sustainability activist about the practice of spearfishing lionfish. On this matter he said, “Spearfishing even one lionfish may not seem like much, but you’ll have saved tens of thousands of coral reef fish by doing so. Within weeks a single lionfish can reduce fish populations on a reef by over 80%. Every lionfish speared is countless native fish saved. See one? Shoot one. Save the reef.” It’s worth checking out his Instagram page, @kabzfreediver, and his Youtube channel, youtube.com/c/kabirparker.
I wanted to write this article to bring awareness to this invasive species, not to mention the practice of spearfishing as the single most selective and sustainable fish-harvesting method in the world. It’s also rare that you get an opportunity to enjoy doing something that’s also so helpful to the environment.
For those who want to eat fish, while supporting sustainable fishing practices, something that I advise you keep in mind is the MSC label on products. The Marine Stewardship Council applies a blue fish label to wild fish and seafood from fisheries that have been certified to the MSC Fisheries Standard, a fact-based set of requirements for sustainable fishing. They utilize DNA testing on a regular basis, to ensure trustworthy labelling.
I personally love eating lionfish as sashimi. I also like pan frying them and serving with vegetables. There’s a lot of different ways that you can prepare them, but the common denominators are the great taste and the positive ecological effect. You don’t have to be a freediving spearfisherman to live more sustainably or to “do your part.” All of us can make room for habits that are symbiotic with the environment in which we live. Keep an eye out for Lionfish in local markets, especially if you live in Florida!
If you have any further questions regarding lionfish recipes, how you can live more sustainably, or anything else, please leave a comment below. This is one of my favorite subjects and I’m happy to help.
Why are lionfish a threat to Atlantic Ocean fish? (n.d.). National Ocean Service. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lionfish.html
K. Parker, personal communication, July 17, 2020