Lionfish tastes like snapper and is high in nutrients. Using it as a local food source is a win-win for Bermuda’s marine ecosystems.
An invasive species of fish was the culinary star of an unusual fundraising event that brought some 500 people out to the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo (BAMZ) a few weeks ago, in an effort to introduce more people to the edible lionfish.
Ten restaurants on the Atlantic Ocean island presented their lionfish chowder recipes, with guests voting on the tastiest version. More important is the mission of the first-of-its-kind effort to enlist Bermuda’s businesses, and guests and residents alike, in curbing the ecosystem damage caused by the predatory fish while harnessing an important source of local food.
“They are indiscriminate predators and are known to feed on 70 different types of fish and crustaceans,” the BAMZ said. “Having no natural predators in the Atlantic and being able to reproduce quickly, they pose a real threat to upsetting the natural balance of our important reef ecosystems.”
The lionfish, native to the Pacific Ocean, appeared in United States coastal waters off Florida in the 1980s, spreading into the nearby Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. The first lionfish spotted in Bermuda was a juvenile collected in a tide pool on the southern shore in 2000, according to the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences.
The institute says the invasion is now more widespread than previously known. At a depth of 200 feet, there are roughly 350 lionfish per hectare. The entire problem is linked to the aquarium trade and people who released pets into the sea, with Atlantic Lionshare Ltd. noting that roughly 35% to 65% of the entire population of lionfish now needs to be caught each year in order to keep the species from destroying life on the region’s reefs.
Lionfish eat everything, including ecologically important species of fish and crustaceans, like red night shrimp, whether they are juveniles or small-bodied adults, the organization said. Lionfish in Bermuda have been found with more than 30 juvenile fish in their stomachs.
“Based upon our understanding of the biology and ecology of lionfish, it appears that an uncontrolled population of them could wreak havoc upon the marine environment throughout the western Atlantic Ocean,” says Atlantic Lionshare. “The only way to stop them is to catch them ourselves and eat them.”
To that end, organizations like Lionshare and the Bermuda Lionfish Task Force promote technologies to catch the fish, and help to create markets for their meat.
The task force describes it as tasting like snapper and rockfish, and encourages people in Bermuda to adopt the fish as a diet staple through its “Eat Em to Beat Em” program. The fish are low in levels of heavy metals and other pollutants, with high concentrations of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
“Not only is it good for the environment when you eat one, but it’s good for you too,” the organization adds.