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Eat Fish to Save Fish, Say Conservationists

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Can we save the oceans with strategic dieting? Florida conservationists think so. That’s why they’re encouraging Palm Beach County residents to munch on lionfish–an invasive Indo-Pacific species that has the ability to eat 80% of a coral reef’s small fish population in five weeks. Florida fisherman used to spot no more than five lionfish a year. Now they find up to 500 in a matter of months, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Lionfish have no predators in the Atlantic Ocean. So members of the spiny species are flocking to the Atlantic for an all-you-can-eat buffet of grouper, snapper, parrotfish, grunts, and crustaceans. In the Bahamas, this has spawned organizations such as the Lionfish Derby, which hands out cash prizes to fishermen who catch the largest amount of lionfish. The Derby also holds an annual dinner to showcase the species.

As the lionfish population has increased near Florida, conservationists have launched a local version of the Lionfish Derby. Key Largo’s Reef Environmental Education Foundation is working on a lionfish cookbook, and the National Oceanic and the Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) kicked off its “Eat a Lionfish” campaign earlier this summer.

The NOAA claims that lionfish are surprisingly tasty:

Fortunately for our coral reefs, the flashy lionfish has caught the
attention of the hungriest predators of all: People! Once stripped of
its venomous spines, cleaned, and filleted like any other fish, the
lionfish becomes delectable seafood fare. 

We’ll believe it when we eat it. But considering how many species of endangered fish are pushed on unsuspecting consumers, restaurants could do with some more environmentally responsible options. We could take a cue from the Japanese and their invasive jellyfish-infused space candy.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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