I used to have a pet lionfish in my Dad’s first saltwater aquarium. It was a beautiful fish that slowly swam along looking like a deadly piece of seaweed. After a day hauling lobster traps, we used to bring home small eels and little fish that we’d find on deck to feed him and his energetic tankmate, a panther grouper. It was always fun to watch the lionfish stealthily lurk up to his prey and suck it up in the blink of an eye.
Unfortunately what is entertaining to watch in your fish tank has become a major problem on the reefs. Thanks to their popularity as pets, two species of lionfish (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) have become dangerously invasive in the warm waters off the US Atlantic coast, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and most recently the Mediterranean.
Lionfish species are in balance in their native waters, but where introduced, they out-compete native species and will eat any fish that fits in its mouth. They are reproducing fast and with a row of poisonous spines, it’s not threatened by most of the larger predators. If something is not done soon, they could destroy ecosystems already stressed by the effects of climate change. This has far ranging ecological and economical consequences that can cripple local communities reliant on tourism and commercial fishing. Lionfish could possibly be the most dangerous of all marine invasive species and needs to addressed before it’s too late.
Like green crabs and Asian carp, invasive lionfish may be another problem we can eat our way out of. Little did I know that lionfish are not only edible, but apparently they taste great. The spines have venom to scare away predators, but the fish itself is perfectly safe to eat. One of several organizations committed to getting the public to eat these invasive fish is Lionfish Hunters, which has a very informative website on the lionfish invasion and how to alleviate the problem.
Lionfish may also be the tastiest and healthiest of the invasive species we are currently dealing with. They are high in Omega-3, low in saturated fat, low in mercury and apparently, big on flavor. According to the Lionfish Hunter website, the meat is white, firm, but also flaky.
The images of lionfish fillets show a clean looking flesh, with a pinkish hue and no bloodline. I have yet to try lionfish but the website says the taste is somewhere between mahi-mahi (dolphinfish) and grouper.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a flavor profile that I would like to try. Up here in New England I have not seen lionfish at markets or in restaurants, but seems to be making inroads in NYC and in Connecticut. They have also been sighted off Rhode Island in the summer so maybe it can become a seasonal specialty like striped bass. This sounds like a fish and a mission worth seeking out, so I will keep an eye out for lionfish in my travels.
If anyone has tried lionfish please tell us about your experience in the comments!