True to its name, the carnivorous lionfish (genus name: Pterois) has become the chief predator of our coral reefs. How did this dangerous species get here? The Invasive Alien Species (IAS) lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific region as aquarium fish and they have thought to have been introduced by accident to waters along the coast of Florida in the 1990’s. Since then, they have established themselves in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Caribbean seas. The global economic impacts of aquatic IAS have been estimated by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to be tens of billions of US dollars.
According to the 2016 Trinidad and Tobago’s Fifth National Report to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the first lionfish in Tobago was officially recorded in July 2012 and the first sighting in Trinidad was in August 2012. While lionfish are undeniably visually striking with their fiery red, cream and brown stripes and lion’s mane-like protruding spikes– their appetite for marine life is anything, but cute. Their stomachs can expand up to 30 times its normal volume and lionfish devour ecologically important species such as parrotfish, wrasse and cleaner shrimp that help keep our islands’ algae and fish parasite level low. The loss of these species causes devastation to our delicate coral reefs’ ecosystems.
In our region, lionfish are especially deadly because they have no natural predators – their spines emit venom making them an unstoppable force of nature against their prey and a nuisance to fishermen who find them in their nets instead of their target fish. With a deadly sting and a voracious appetite for coral reef species, how can lionfish be stopped? To date, local efforts to curb these predators include regular removal exercises by divers and fisherfolk. The Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) host Lionfish Derbies – a two-day event encouraging diver teams and free divers to compete for over $25,000 in cash and prizes in categories such as Large, Smallest and Most, Lionfish Captured among others. While these efforts have helped reduce the spread of lionfish, they are still not enough. One of the most innovative ways to eradicate the spread of these aquatic enemies is to eat it. Let’s join in making lionfish, a tasty dish!
But first, here are some lionfish facts:
· Lionfish are NOT poisonous – Once lionfish are handled correctly and the venomous spines are removed and/or rendered inert, they can be eaten. Ciguatoxins, the cause of Ciguatera Food Poisoning (CFP), have been found in a small sample of lionfish in VERY SPECIFIC AREAS where other reef predators are known to also carry the risk of ciguatera, however there have been no known cases of ciguatera food poisoning having been caused by eating lionfish to date. It is also important to note that over 400 different fish species are known to carry ciguatoxin that can cause ciguatera including common reef fish such as barracuda, grouper, red snapper, sturgeon, kingfish and sea bass. Not all fish of a given species or from a given area will be toxic.
· Lionfish are delicious – Known for their white buttery firm flesh, lionfish are a tasty substitute for fish like red snapper and grouper.
· Lionfish are versatile and can be eaten raw – Like any fish, once lionfish is cleaned and filleted, it can be used in a variety of ways including raw preparations like lionfish ceviche, sashimi and sushi dishes. Lionfish can be baked, grilled, curried, fried, you name it. They are an ethical, sustainable replacement for overfished fish – so soon you can feel good about heading to Maracas to satisfy your Bake and lionfish cravings.
Promote the consumption of lionfish – Eat it, cook it, ask your favorite restaurant to serve it. Tame the lionfish beast, one bite at a time.
Click Here for delicious lionfish recipes!