December 30, 2010

Key To Solving Florida Lionfish Invasion: Cook Them!

Florida marine conservationists have come to the conclusion that the best way to put an end to the lionfish invasion in the state's waters is to eat them, according to a recent Reuters report.

The REEF conservation organization released "The Lionfish Cookbook," which is a collection of 45 recipes, in order to counter an invasion of the fish in Florida waters.

"It's absolutely good eating -- a delicacy. It's delicately flavored white meat, very buttery," Lad Akins, director of special projects for Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), told Reuters. He was one of the authors for the cookbook, along with professional chef Tricia Ferguson.

The non-native fish is a prickly predator armed with flaring venomous spines like a lion's mane.  They are native to the South Pacific, Indian Ocean and Red Sea.

The fish have been rapidly expanding in Caribbean and Atlantic waters, voraciously preying on local fish, shrimp and crab populations throughout the region and in Florida.

Some scientists list the invasive lionfish species among the top 15 threats to global diversity.

Akins told Reuters that making humans the invading species' top predator was the best way to fight back against the threat it posed.

"Fishermen and divers realize it's a danger to our native marine life through its predation. But there really aren't government funds to provide bounties or removal programs. So creating a demand for the fish, a market for the fish, is in effect a de facto bounty," he said.

According to U.S. government researchers, the red lionfish was introduced into Florida waters during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 when an aquarium broke and at least six fish spilled into Miami's Biscayne Bay.

The beginning of the cookbook gives useful tips on collecting, handling and preparing the fish species, as well as providing expert background on its ecological impact.

Akins said the fish can be netted, speared or caught by rod and reel.  However, he said that handling them with puncture-proof gloves to avoid getting pricked from its venomous spines is recommended.

"They can be quick over a short distance, but they're not a free-swimming ocean fish like a tuna or a mackerel," he said.

Akins says that lionfish meat is safe and contains no venom, unlike the Fugu pufferfish which can cause fatal poisoning.

"The venom is only in the spines. Cooking the fish would denature the venom, even if you left the spines on. It's simple enough just to cut the spines off," he told Reuters.

Akins said he hopes the cookbook could create a commercial market for lionfish that would speed their eradication.

"It certainly is on the menu in many other countries -- the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Dominican Republic, Mexico," he said, adding that orders for the recipe book were coming in fast.


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