5 reasons you should be eating lionfish

5 reasons you should be eating lionfish

Most people agree . . . Lionfish are beautiful. If you’ve seen one in the wild you know they are hard to miss. They look out of place because well the fish is out of place and is considered exotic. Lion fish are native to the indo-pacific. If you’re wondering that’s the southeast coast of Africa to the Philippines and Australia. So how did they make their way to the Caribbean oceans?  According to lionfish.gcfi.org “The release of unwanted lionfish into the wild from home aquaria is believed to be the most probable source for the invasion.” Lionfish have been seen more and more since the late 1980’s and early 90’s and have been multiplying rapidly since. So why is this a bad thing and why should you be opting to eat a venomous fish instead of a tasty grouper or snapper? Keep reading and you’ll see why this is a win for you and a win for the Atlantic oceans ecosystems.

1.) Lionfish are invasive to the Gulf and Atlantic Oceans

If you live in the southeastern United States you might have seen this invasive species in recent news. These fish have been progressively decimating Caribbean fish populations. There are 12 species of lionfish native to the Indo-Pacific Ocean. The red lionfish and common lionfish are the sub species that have invaded Atlantic waters.

Lionfish have all the characteristics of an invasive species. They have few natural predators, cause interruption to the natural order of the food chain and reproduce quickly. A single lionfish can lay up to two million eggs in its life time and reaches sexual maturity within a year. These fish aren’t picky eaters. They eat anything from crabs, shrimp and small lobster to other small fish that don’t recognize them as predators. Because lionfish are non-native to our reefs it is harder for their potential prey to recognize them as predators.

Image via ICRIforum.org. The Above image shows native (green) and non-native (red) areas


2.) Lionfish are delicious

If you haven’t tasted this fish you’re missing out. Lionfish meat often gets compared to hogsnapper. The fillets are white and flakey. Scott Harrell at Lionfish.co put it succinctly “Lionfish is a white flaky fish, firmer in texture than halibut, no “red line” with a flavor profile somewhere between a thin grouper fillet and mahi mahi (dolphinfish or dorado depending upon where you live) with a touch of butter.”

This is the silver lining to the ever multiplying scourge of Lionfish – most agree they are delicious. That statement is prequalified with most because when it comes to food everything is interpretive and some love things that others hate. The general consensus is however that lionfish gives grouper, snapper and dolphin a run for its money.

If you are catching lionfish off the reef or purchasing fillets from a local market there are a variety of recipes to prepare the fish yourself. This fish tastes great battered, in a taco or even in a sushi roll. Advocates of lionfish eradication and chefs have even written cookbooks on the subject.

3.) Their sting is extremely painful

We don’t want to kill and eat everything in the ocean that can bite or sting people. Sharks are a great example of this. They play an important role in the food chain but they get a bad rap due to the occasional mistake. Lionfish however do not provide value to North and South American continental marine ecosystems. Additionally, their venomous sting can cause severe pain and swelling. Lionfish have venomous pectoral, anal and dorsal spines or barbs. Their venom can effect normal muscle contraction and heart rate as well as cause nausea, vomiting, fever and even anaphylactic shock. Even though stings are normally non-fatal in adult humans this still creates additional risk to divers posed by a fish that shouldn’t be in our waters.

This may seem like a reason not to eat lionfish. Why would you handle a fish that can absolutely ruin your weekend if not filleted properly? Yes, this is a risk however there is a ton of information out there on how to safely fillet a Lionfish. If precautionary methods (proper gloves & handling) are used you are significantly reducing your risk. Many grocery chains, restaurants and local markets now offer lionfish so you can still support eradication without getting near those venomous barbs.

4.) A demand for lionfish helps curb their population growth

As awareness has increased in recent years, initiatives to mitigate growing lionfish populations have taken different forms. Aside from encouraging divers and spearo’s to kill lionfish when they are spotted, restaurants, grocery stores and local outdoor markets have offered their fillets not only as a delicious dish but as a campaign to save reef fish populations. There are a plethora of local restaurants on the Florida coastlines that serve lionfish with some fish being imported to inland landlocked states and served as a delicacy.

Unfortunately, although supporting the fight to eradicate this fish by eating them at a restaurant helps, it probably won’t be enough just by itself. Lionfish are typically caught on a rod and reel so harvesting them can be time consuming. This drives up the cost and selling point making it a harder sell to uninformed consumers.  

5.) Lionfish is fantastic nutritionally  

Many delicious fish have high mercury content. Tuna, mackerel, swordfish and tilefish are just a few popular fish with high mercury levels. Lionfish has low mercury levels and is high in all the heart healthy omega 3’s that you would hope to get from your favorite fillet. Eat up because we can’t pull them out of the water fast enough. Next time you see lionfish on the menu try it out. Eating a fish that’s healthy, tasty and listed as an offender to Atlantic reef ecosystems is a win for you and the marine environment.