They don't call it the lionfish just for it's beautiful stripes. It's 18 spines are venonmous, making the lionfish the king of wherever it's found. And lately it's been on the prowl for more territory in the Atlantic, spreading from North Carolina to South America. But the lionfish's power grab has made it a King elsewhere- on the dinner plate!
That's because lionfish happens to be a tasty morsel. Says Chef James Clark at the Marina Inn at Grande Dunes in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina- "It really is an excellent eating fish. I'd put it up against any firm, white, mild-flavored fish. It has a cucumber-y, sweet shrimp flavor." You may often find raw slices of the fish served in sushi establishments with sake-soy sauce, roasted seaweed flakes, toasted sesame seeds, and chives.
As familiar seafood like tuna and salmon is fished to near extinction, some people are evangelizing eating invasive species of fish—specifically, lionfish and Asian carp—as an alternative. These species are plentiful, tasty, and a menace to other fish populations (some locations it has invaded have up to 200 lionfish per acre). What could be more environmentally responsible?
An invasive species is defined as a species of animal (or plant) that is not native to an area and causes harm to the environment, economy, or human health. Lionfish are the spiny striped fish native to the Indo-Pacific that you usually see in tropical aquariums—the kind that PETCO warns "will eat any tankmate that can fit in its mouth." And it's the aquarium trade that is thought to be responsible for the fish's accidental escape into the Atlantic.
Renata Lana, a communications specialist at NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, has been working on an "Eat Lionfish" campaign to educate the public about putting the fish on the table. She is contacting people like Jessica Zabel at the seafood market Cod & Capers in Florida, and trying to support their grass-roots efforts to build a market for the fish. But it's not the easiest task simply because fisherman and chefs alike worry about getting stung. "Most fishermen don't keep them because they take the risk of being stuck by one," says Wayne Mershon, owner of Kenyon Seafood in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina.
But as well all know, if the public demands it, the fish will come. So next time your at your favorite sushi restaurant, don't be afraid to ask if they serve that fish with the pretty lionesque stripes...