Conservationists Want You to Eat More of This Fish
Julia Franz - PRI's The World
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November 29, 2016

This is a lionfish at the Boston Aquarium (Tiziano Luccarelli)

With its arsenal of spiny, venom-tipped fin rays, the lionfish is not a typical (or easy) ingredient in your fish tacos. But at Norman’s Cay, a restaurant in downtown Manhattan, lionfish comes grilled or fried — and its mild white meat is starting to show up in other restaurants in Florida and New York.

That’s because the predatory lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, is invading the Atlantic Ocean in a big way. Experts believe the first lionfish population here may have been released by humans, as they're popular in home aquariums. Now, they're prevalent in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico and have been spotted all the way up the East Coast of the United States. As part of an effort to curb lionfish, conservationists and foodies alike are trying to get us to eat more of it. Results have been mixed, but not for the reasons you might think.

“They are a challenge to catch,” says Maia McGuire, an agent with the Florida Sea Grant Extension, one of the organizations trying to get rid of lionfish in coastal waters. “They like to be on reef areas or areas with structure, and they actually like being under ledges a lot of the time — so it’s not a great place to drag a net. They don't really take a hook very well.”

That leaves humans to a job that sounds more like hunting lions than fishing: According to McGuire, most lionfish are caught by divers armed with spear guns or nets. “So it’s pretty labor-intensive fishery,” she says.

...McGuire isn’t sure who first came up with the idea to promote lionfish as a tasty, environmentally friendly food. But she suspects that with the invasion of lionfish, someone — or some people — wondered what could be done with the newly abundant fish.

“So folks tried them, and they found that they're actually a very tasty fish,” she surmises. “It's a mild white fish and they take seasoning well, chefs like working with them, so it kind of seemed like the perfect solution.”

Read the rest at PRI's The World

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