The extravagant fins of the lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, resemble the plumage of turkeys and have thus earned the additional common name of ‘turkeyfish’. What is so ironic about that particular nickname is that scientists and fisheries managers have urged us to ‘gooble’ up this exotic looking creature. What’s happened over time is a gradual introduction of the lionfish along the southeast coast of the U.S., the Caribbean, and in parts of the Gulf of Mexico by way of too many releases from fish tanks in the late 1980’s and early 1990s. Unfortunately, these fish have become quite a nuisance in their new neighborhood. In 2010, Juliet Eilperin wrote this on how the lionfish are destroying the reefs along the southeastern Atlantic coast, “As a top predator, it consumes juvenile snapper and grouper along with algae-eating parrotfish, all of which help keep reefs healthy. Between 2004 and 2008, local densities of lionfish increased by roughly 700 percent in some areas; there are now 1,000 lionfish per acre on certain reefs”. As part of the plan for recovering the reefs, in 2010 a campaign was launched to catch lionfish and deep fry, blacken, sautée, or even turn it into an ingredient in sushi. Although, it is imperative that your know you’re source. This past summer, the FDA tested almost 200 lionfish and found there was a high level of the toxin that causes ciguatera in nearly a quarter of the fish. However, according to Michael Dimin, founder of Sea to Table, sautéeing them is still the best way to regain a more natural balance.
Not interested in eating them? You can even help to control the population by becoming a lionfish hunter yourself!