With a light buttery flavour, lionfish fillets are surprisingly delicious and can be found on the menus of many restaurants throughout Bermuda. Aside from their flavour, there is a more important reason for making lionfish the catch of the day: There are way too many of them polluting the waters surrounding the island.
These striking striped fish, which have a distinctive mane of venomous stemmed spines, were first spotted in Bermuda in 1999. Some scientists believe they got here thanks to Florida pet owners who would release them into the ocean.
Lionfish are fast-reproducing fish, voracious predators and aggressive eaters. They can consume anything and everything, including a variety of fish and crustaceans. In the Atlantic Ocean, fish lack a native instinct to avoid them and therefore become easy prey. And because lionfish can live in a variety of local marine habitats such as coral reefs, seagrass and mangroves, they are capable of negatively impacting fish communities all around the islands. According to ecologist Dr. James A. Morris, lionfish may prove to be one of the greatest threats of this century to warm temperate and tropical Atlantic reefs and associated habitats.
In order to beat them, you must eat them. “If diners continue to request lionfish, it will hopefully encourage more people to fish for them and lead to a reduction in their numbers,” says Dr. Tammy Trott, senior marine resources officer for the Marine Resources Section of the Bermuda Government Department of Environmental Protection. “This would help to mitigate the impacts of the lionfish on Bermuda’s coral reefs.” Contrary to what they might believe, diners need not worry about ingesting lionfish venom. “Lionfish deliver venom through their spines from venom glands located at the base,” says Dr. Trott. “However, once the spines are removed, the potential for harm is gone. In addition, the venom can be neutralized by cooking it.”
There are other ways for visitors to do their part in controlling the alien invader, too. The Bermuda Government’s Department of Environmental Protection issues special lionfish culling permits to individuals who wish to personally join in on the effort to reduce lionfish populations. “Visitors who are certified scuba divers can take a specialty PADI lionfish culling course with local dive companies like Dive Bermuda, Triangle Diving or Bermuda Water Divers and Watersports, which will then permit them to catch lionfish with a spear during their trips with the dive operator,” says Dr. Trott. There is also a course for local residents, which is offered by the Ocean Support Foundation. To learn more about lionfish culling, visit oceansupport.org.