Eat a Lionfish, Save a Reef – markets and menus to the rescue

[Update #2:  Promising development.  We’ve located a major seafood buyer, Congressional Seafood, that serves over 250 fine dining establishments here in the DC/Baltimore area.  A great family business (Stanley Pearlman and his son Jon) that hopefully will soon be putting lionfish on more menus and, in so doing, help conserve our oceans.  We will advertise on this blog those local DC restaurants that begin to serve lionfish.]

[Update #1:  Calling all capitalists and entrepreneurs.  If you are in the business of seafood buying/brokering, or know of someone in that business, please contact or, or post contact information here.  A unique opportunity exists to foster a solution to this growing threat to marine biodiversity by eating more lionfish and putting it on more menus.]

As many of you who follow this blog know invasive species can have devastating impacts on local economies and wipe out endemic wildlife populations.  Scott Cameron a frequent blogger here at ConserveFewell has established a new coalition devoted to reducing the risks and economic costs from invasive species, RRISC.  The lionfish is one of those perfect killers, introduced by aquarium enthusiasts into places it doesn’t belong and wreaking havoc on native fish populations and decimating reefs.  As a former aquarium enthusiast myself, this beautiful creature sent me scrambling to the hospital as a teen after accidentally impaling myself on one of its poisonous dorsal fins while cleaning a tank – where writhing in pain I waited for the Doctor to flip through his medical books looking for treatment to a lionfish sting.   The good news is that I survived to tell this story.  The public is starting to wake to this threat and find innovative ways to extinguish it.   Over at Raxacollective, Phil Karp (that’s his real name, honest), has the following update:

[T]he Atlantic lionfish invasion is a unique problem that requires innovative solutions. The good news is that there is increasing and encouraging evidence that populations of native species can recover relatively quickly if lionfish numbers are kept in check.   The question therefore becomes one of how to do this effectively and on a fiscally sustainable basis. I don’t believe that public sector agencies can do it alone, nor can legions of volunteer divers. Successful and sustained removal requires strategies that mobilize a range of stakeholders. A key element is development of markets that create commercial incentives for removals. Ideally, these should also provide livelihood opportunities for the fisher communities that are directly impacted by the threat.

Foremost of these markets is the fisher/seafood seller/restaurant value chain. Promotion of lionfish as a food item has the dual benefit of creating commercial incentives for removals while also raising awareness about the invasion. The growing number of restaurants offering lionfish on their menus is a positive sign and is likely due in good measure to success of “Eat’em to Beat’em” campaigns of NOAA, REEF, and other entities.

A helpful video for filleting a lionfish here:

This solution requires both public and private sector action.  So next time you frequent one of those fancy 5-star restaurants, look for Lionfish on the menu or ask for it by name.  Currently, this spiny succulent fish is on the menu of over 50 restaurants, mostly in Florida.  But hopefully coming to a diner near you soon.