Reef to Table Dinner: How to create a sustainable meal with Florida’s invasive lionfish
If you’ve done any amount of offshore fishing or diving in Florida over the past 10 years, chances are you’ve probably seen, caught, or at least heard about lionfish before. For the folks reading this article that haven’t heard the news, here’s the scoop.
Lionfish are an invasive marine reef fish that now call the majority of the western Atlantic, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico their home. These invaders hale from the Indo-Pacific and were thought to be brought to this side of the planet through the aquarium trade. Unfortunately, the two traits that make these fish perfect for an aquarium; their beauty and heartiness, also made them the perfect invader. So perfect that lionfish are considered the worst marine invasion in history!
With high rates of reproduction, voracious appetites, and tolerance to a wide range of habitat conditions, lionfish spell trouble for our native ecosystems. A unique coloration and more than a dozen venomous spines, allow this invader to avoid predation from every species in Florida except one — humans.
Humans are the only hope for controlling lionfish within their invaded range, and we’re in luck because they are incredibly delicious. Don’t believe us? Try it for yourself! Here’s how to get lionfish on your dinner plate tonight.
The first step in this process is going to be obtaining your fish. For most people, driving down to your local fish house and picking up a handful of fillets is going to be the best route. Many locations in Florida keep lionfish in stock, but you may want to call around before hopping in the car. For those of you with access to a boat and time to spare, harvesting the lionfish yourself is also an option. Visit FWCReefRangers.com to learn more about harvesting lionfish
We know what you’re wondering, what about that venom? Lionfish do have 18 venomous spines. The tissue within these spines contains a neuromuscular toxin that can cause pain, swelling, and other side effects when injected into the body. Luckily, there are no reported deaths from a lionfish sting and there is no venom contained within the flesh of the fish making them perfectly safe to eat.
Filleting a lionfish is like filleting any other type of fish except for using caution to avoid those venomous spines. If you put the fish on its side, you can easily hold the fish by the gill plates without getting stuck. Another option is to wear puncture-resistant gloves. Some also choose to cut the spines off before filleting.
This is where you can let your creativity run wild. Lionfish are a highly sought-after fish in many high-end seafood restaurants because of their excellent quality. When cooked, lionfish fillets are firm, white, and flaky, with a very mild taste comparable to snapper or hogfish. This means that lionfish can be prepared in a variety of dishes. You may want to keep it classic, pan-searing the fillet with butter and lemon, or go wild, cooking the fish whole with head and spines still intact. If you want to impress a crowd, lionfish ceviche is sure to please, or a classic fish fry! Lionfish taste excellent underneath a coating of cornmeal batter and hot oil.
Whichever way you decide to prepare your meal, you can end your day happy knowing that your meal helped protect Florida’s marine ecosystems.
Want to learn more about FWC’s lionfish control initiatives?