Eating Lionfish May Be the Only Way to Stop their Caribbean Invasion


Image credit: tibchris/Flickr

Coral reefs in the Caribbean and Bahamas are already struggling to cope with nitrate pollution, sediment deposits, coral bleaching, ocean acidification, and overfishing. Now, they have one more challenge to contend with: Invasive lionfish.

The highly aggressive, poisonous, fish are spreading rapidly through the region and conservations have been unable to find a means of slowing them down—except for hunting and eating them. Recipes to follow?

Caribbean Invasion



Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Researchers believe that the first lionfish were accidentally released into Biscayne Bay, Florida, when a beachside aquarium was ruptured during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Though it is likely that many more have been released by pet owners since, genetic research has shown that the entire Atlantic and Caribbean population stems from just six individuals.

SLIDESHOW: The World's Most Lovable Invasive Species

Since then, the lionfish has spread up the coast as far as North Carolina and throughout the Bahamas and Caribbean islands.

Voracious Predators

Lionfish are know to eat a wide variety of species and seem to have an insatiable appetite. Surveys have found that introducing just a single lionfish to a reef leads to a 79 percent reduction in juvenille fish populations within five weeks. Overall, lionfish are believed to be responsible for a 80 percent reduction in the survival rates of small reef fish throughout the region.

Mark Hixon, an Oregon State University professor of zoology, explained:

This is a new and voracious predator on these coral reefs and it's undergoing a population explosion...the threats to coral reefs all over the world were already extreme, and they now have to deal with this alien predator in the Atlantic. Lionfish eat many other species and they seem to eat constantly.

The lionfish are protected by large spines and powerful toxins, which makes them undesirable to most predators. Whatever species or mechanism is present in the Pacific to limit the lionfish populations, it's missing in the Caribbean.

In spite of their best efforts, conservationists have been unable to find anything that can fence in the lionfish invasion.

It's What's for Dinner?

Image credit: Johnath/Flickr

At a loss for a better solution, conservationists have suggested the controversial measure of encouraging the hunting of lionfish for food. Hixon commented:

Until we can develop a better understanding of this invasion, one of the few control mechanisms may be to develop a market for them as a food fish...lionfish are pretty easy to catch, taste good and could be advertised as a conservation dish.

In the Bahamas, a group advocating this measure has emerged. Called Lionfish Hunters, they provide residents and tourists with information on fishing for and eating lionfish—and yes, that includes recipes.

Such measures will never be capable of restoring the balance of an afflicted ecosystem, but advocates argue that they can help reduce the impact until a more sustainable solution is discovered.

In the case of the lionfish, death by dinner plate may be the only option.

Read more about lionfish:
Diners Dig Into Invasive Lionfish, But Do They Really Care About Saving Coral Reefs?
Non-Native Lionfish Move to Florida Keys, Eat Everything, Won't Go Home
Read more about invasive species:
Eating Aliens: Are Invasive Species Ethical Food?
Eat The Enemy: Invasive Squirrel Introduced As 'Ethical Food' In UK Butcher Shops
Epic Fail: Efforts to Fight Invasive Species Could Cause 'Ecosystem Meltdown'
The World's Most Lovable Invasive Species (Slideshow)

Tags: Animals | Conservation | Fish