Lionfish are anathema in Florida — an invasive species that feast on native fish and shellfish. They have no natural predators and swarm all over the state’s warm coastal waters. That’s the bad news.
The good news? Whole Foods stores in Florida just started selling Lionfish fillets — a “white, buttery meat” – minus the poisonous spines.
Eat the Problem
“By reducing the number of lionfish in the wild, Whole Foods Market will help reduce the serious environmental threat they cause,” said Whole Foods Market (WFM) in a press release.
The government blames the aquarium trade for introducing the fish to the U.S., and encourages you to catch and eat them. Whole Foods is doing its part.
Lionfish are native to the Pacific and Indian oceans, and weigh up to two and a half pounds. They feature distinctive gold and white stripes, and a lion-like mane of poisonous spines that gives them their name. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “the spines of this species deliver a venomous sting that can last for days and cause extreme pain, sweating respiratory distress, and even paralysis.”
The spines make lionfish a challenge to clean. Jackson Sanders, author of “Eating Aliens: One Man’s Adventures Hunting Animal Invasive Species,” wrote that “if you get poked while you’re handling the fish in a boat or in the kitchen, it’s going to ruin your day.”
Not to worry. Whole Foods says, “The thoroughly trained team members at Whole Foods Market will receive the lionfish in-store and execute all necessary preparations for shoppers including the removal of the spines.”
If You Can’t Beat Them Eat Them
Once a lionfish is cleaned and placed on ice, the fish cannot physically release venom from its gland, says Whole Foods, making it safe for people to eat. They describe is as a “delicious seafood option with white, buttery meat”, and offer it for $9.99 per pound.
Edward Steadley, Whole Foods Market associate seafood coordinator, told the Miami New Times that their lionfish are sourced from divers from the Florida Keys to Pensacola and Destin, who deep dive down 120 to 130 feet to spear the fish. Steadley calls the dives, “pretty intense”. “These divers sometimes dive up to six times a day. It’s not your ordinary, everyday, diving.”
Why Wait? Get Them on Your Plate
Steadley likes to use lionfish in ceviche. “It’s a mild, flaky fish and hands down, it makes the best ceviche you will ever put in your mouth.” Ceviche is fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime.
If you want to catch your own lionfish, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission encourages it.
“Removing lionfish can help Florida’s native marine species and habitat. They can be speared, caught in hand-held nets, or caught on hook and line. There is no recreational or commercial harvest bag limit.”
Fish and Wildlife even publishes a list of wholesale dealers eager to buy your catch.
Sound good? Go for it. Just watch out for those spines.