Lionfish: If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em!

North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog

It’s not often you get to help yourself by balancing your diet while at the same time restoring some balance to the planet: in this case, the marine reef ecosystem. But that’s what eating lionfish will do. Because right now, people are the only predator the lionfish has.

Lionfish“Lionfish can weigh up to 2.5 pounds, and once you get past the stinger, we want people to know that this invasive species is very good as well as very safe to eat,” says Barry Nash, a seafood technology and marketing specialist with North Carolina Sea Grant.

“With the stingers on, they are poisonous, so I think people are afraid to eat them,” says Libby Eaton, the owner of Bistro By the Sea restaurant in Moorehead City “Once you kill them and clean them, they’re not poisonous anymore, but it will take awhile for customers to get used to that idea.”

The idea of catching and eating lionfish as a way to restore balance to the reef ecosystem may seem unusual. After all, with no predators except people, and with lionfish laying more than one million eggs per year, we’re not going to get rid of this invasive fish. Catching and eating lionfish is similar to weeding your garden. You won’t get rid of all of the weeds but it’s a way to keep the weeds from overrunning the garden.

“The taste will be familiar to people because it is similar to snapper or grouper,” says Nash. “I have tried grilled, broiled, fried, blackened and baked lionfish and every method cooked the fish very well.”

LionfishLionfish make for delicious, delicate, economical fillets and like other fish, contain healthy fish oils and proteins. The flesh is firm and white and can be treated like any other good eating fish. In fact, lionfish can be prepared dozens of ways. Nash gave me a few of his favorite receipes.

Click here for two tasty lionfish recipes!

The Reef Environmental Education Foundation's "Lionfish Cookbook" includes 45 recipes, from blackened fillets and nachos to "Spicy Lionfish with Dill Sauce." Here’s a link:

By the way, there are no catch limits for lionfish. However, Nash tells me the challenge is that lionfish can’t be caught by hook or net. The fish must be caught individually, with a single net or spear, and that is something North Carolina commercial fisheries are not equipped to do.

“It’s a really good flavored fish and because of that, it has commercial applications if we can just get enough of them,” says Nash.

- Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!

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