We've all seen them but for most of us Lionfish seem reserved for aquariums; sometimes in public places, sometimes in businesses, sometimes in the homes of friends bold enough to pull off salt water aquariums.
Unfortunately for other fish, people have been seeing them in the Atlantic (where they are not native). Unfortunately for us, we are not seeing them enough on our plates...
In a recent article in The Economist called, Eat for the Ecosystem, that's exactly what Sean Dimin, one of the owners of a firm called Sea to Table is proposing. In order to help fend off the invasive species - eat them. Sea to Table "partners with local fishermen from sustainable wild fisheries, finding better markets for their catch."
The problem is not just that Lionfish are non-native, it is that they eat nearly everything. Mark Hixon, an Oregon State University professor of Zoology and expert on coral reef ecology states (as quoted on oregonstate.edu):
“This is a new and voracious predator on these coral reefs and it’s undergoing a population explosion. The threats to coral reefs all over the world were already extreme, and they now have to deal with this alien predator in the Atlantic. These fish eat many other species and they seem to eat constantly.”
Sean Dimin's concept is sound, if Lionfish taste so good, eat them. One obstacle is that Loinfish-ing doesn't work well with nets and lines. They basically need to be speared by a snorkeler or a SCUBA diver. This could be cost prohibitive - but the fact is, people dive in the Caribbean all the time, for fun.
If divers knew they could score a small payday if they brought back a few Lionfish, I'm sure people would jump on the idea. Compound that with the fact that they are benefiting financially from conservation and you have a real win-win situation. They just need to get the word out.
I caught and ate a Lionfish a long time ago. I was in the Pacific so I wasn't doing any eco-justice but I can personally testify to their delicious-ness. The flesh is white and flaky, clean and mild. I would be stoked to order one at a restaurant.
Next time you talk to your Fishmonger, ask if they have any Lionfish. Next time you're diving in the Caribbean, go nuts and catch as many as you can. Next time you see Lionfish on the menu, order it. Even if you don't like fish, order some and give it to a friendly house cat - your generosity will be rewarded.