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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs