Conservationists: Eat lionfish, help Florida

Published online: Jan 03, 2011 News Trade Only Today

Florida marine conservationists have come up with a simple way to fight the lionfish that are gobbling up local reef life - eat them.

The Key Largo-based Reef Environmental Education Foundation released "The Lionfish Cookbook," the group's latest strategy to counter an invasion of the non-native reddish brown-striped fish in Florida waters, Reuters reported.

"It's absolutely good eating - a delicacy. It's delicately flavored white meat, very buttery," said Lad Akins, director of special projects for REEF.

Red lionfish, a prickly predator armed with flaring venomous spines like a lion's mane that give them their name, are native to the South Pacific, Indian Ocean and Red Sea.

With few natural predators, they have been rapidly expanding in Caribbean and Atlantic waters, preying on local fish, shrimp and crab populations across the region and in Florida, which has world-famous coral reefs.

Some scientists are listing the invasive lionfish species among the top 15 threats to global biodiversity, Reuters reported.

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

Akins said the fish, which lives among coral, can be netted, speared or caught by rod and reel, but he recommends handling them with puncture-proof gloves to avoid a painful prick from the mantle of venomous spines.

Unlike the toxic Fugu pufferfish or blowfish, which is an expensive delicacy in Japan but requires careful expert preparation to avoid potentially fatal poisoning, Akins says lionfish meat is safe to eat and contains no venom.

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