The bad news: the Pacific lionfish has been invading the warmer waters of the Atlantic and doing pretty serious damage to the local fish populations. The good news: according to some friends of ours who just returned from a reef-diving vacation, these predatory lionfish taste really really good.
Pacific lionfish wouldn't be so much of an issue in the Atlantic if it weren't for the fact that it has almost no natural competitors or predators. We can thank overfishing for that. Combined with the fact that baby lionfish have an extremely high survival rate, lionfish pretty much have the run of the reef for their dinner buffet. They also tend to target the juvenile populations of the local species, which effectively prevents other fish from repopulating.
Marine scientists are advocating an "eat them to beat them" strategy to restore balance to the reef ecosystems in the Atlantic. Lionfish are extremely easy to catch en masse and lack only a good market to make fishing them a viable trade.
And yes, lionfish are very tasty! They do come with a venomous (though not actually poisonous) spine that needs to be removed before preparation. But once that's done, lionfish can be used for sushi, fish and chips, pan-searing, and any other white fish preparation you might want. There are lots of websites with recipes for preparing lionfish and even an entire lionfish cookbook:
• Lionfish Recipes from The Lionfish Hunter
• Lionfish Romesco Stew from The Washington Post
• Lionfish Nachos from Mother Nature Network
• The Lionfish Cookbook by Tricia Ferguson and Lad Akins, $17 on Amazon
Further reading on Pacific lionfish invasion in the Atlantic:
• New Weapon Against Invading Fish: The Pan by Andrew Revkin in The New York Times
• Invasive Lionfish from the Center for Coast Fisheries and Habitat Research
• Eat Lionfish and Stop These Caribbean Reef Invaders from the Nature Conservancy blog
• The Lionfish Is Delicious - And it needs to die.
Have you ever eaten lionfish? What do you think about eating an invasive species like this?
Related: Celebrate Seafood: Dinner at the New England Aquarium
(Image: Flickr member DMSamson licensed under Creative Commons)