News / USA

Eating to Beat Invasive Lionfish

Conservationists use knife and fork to save reefs

Lionfish are taking over coral reefs in the Caribbean and Atlantic. Here, Lad Akins catches one.
Lionfish are taking over coral reefs in the Caribbean and Atlantic. Here, Lad Akins catches one.

Multimedia

Audio

In the waters of the Caribbean Sea, a voracious invasive species called the lionfish is threatening to overtake the reefs.

Conservation groups are fighting back with an unusual approach. "Eat them to beat them," is their slogan, and they're urging chefs and diners to enjoy the unwelcome fish as a tasty delicacy.

Invasive presence

The lionfish is native to the Indian and Western Pacific Oceans. It came to the United States as a popular aquarium fish. But in the past decade, lionfish released into the wild have invaded coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.

Lionfish pose a serious threat to commercially valuable fish like snapper and grouper.
Lionfish pose a serious threat to commercially valuable fish like snapper and grouper.

These ravenous fish eat everything in their path, says Lad Akins, with the marine conservation group Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF).

"They eat other fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and octopus. Almost anything that moves and will go into that mouth, even up to half their own body size, is potential prey."

Lionfish populations have exploded in the past few years. They're eating so much that they're pushing out native reef species. The U.S. oceans agency, NOAA, says they pose a serious threat to commercially valuable fish like snapper and grouper, and put added stress on coral reef ecosystems that are already under pressure from pollution and climate change.

Tasty predators

Experts want to turn the tables on this hungry predator.

NOAA has launched the "Eat Lionfish" campaign and is working to put the invasive fish on the menu at top U.S. restaurants.

Beer-battered Lionfish puffs
Beer-battered Lionfish puffs

"The flesh is actually very light and delicate," Akins says. "It's not strong flavored. So you can season it many different ways. It's a great eating fish."

Akins says REEF is putting together a lionfish cookbook, due out this summer.

But he cautions that lionfish may be a pricey delicacy. "It's not like a traditional fishery where you can collect them in a large net," he says. Lionfish are caught by labor-intensive spearfishing.

"It's a bit expensive to get the fish," he says. "But it's worth it because they're so good eating. I think we're going to see a market develop for lionfish as a delicacy. And people are going to pay a premium for it."

Promoting unsustainable fishing

At a time when environmental groups are warning about over-fishing, it's unusual for a conservation group to encourage fishers to decimate a species. But Akins says this is one fishery that should not be sustainable.

"We don't want to create a fishery that protects this fish and maintains stocks of this fish for the restaurants," he says. "The goal is, eat them to beat them, and eat them until they're gone."

But invasive species expert Dan Simberloff at the University of Tennessee is skeptical.

"It's a foolish idea, and it won't work," he says. There's a long history of people suggesting culinary control of invasive species, "And historically, these really haven't worked at all."

For example, an invasive South American rodent called the nutria is destroying wetlands across the southeastern United States. Famous New Orleans chefs have come up with recipes for cooking nutria, but that's done nothing to control the pest. Simberloff says it's just too hard to get people to eat a new food.

But Akins says lionfish already is on the menu in some restaurants in the Caribbean. And he says people in the United States will be willing to pay for it, not only because a cooked lionfish tastes good, but also because it's good for the reefs.

You May Like

Anti-Terror Drills Highlight China’s Push Into Central Asia

China, Russia, several central Asian countries wrap up massive anti terrorism military drills in Inner Mongolia More

Erdogan’s First Step: Secure More Power in New Role in Turkey

Erdogan was sworn in as Turkey's first popularly elected president on Thursday; he picked former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu as PM More

Pakistan Army Fails to Break Political Deadlock

PM Sharif claims he didn't ask army to defuse crisis; military rejects claim More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assaulti
X
Daniel Schearf
August 29, 2014 9:30 PM
After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.

AppleAndroid