Catch of the Day: Lionfish

Photo courtesy of NOAA

If you can’t beat it, eat it. That’s the edict coming from scientists who are trying to combat the spread of invasive lionfish in Atlantic and Caribbean waters. 

A native of South Pacific and Indian Oceans and popular aquarium specimen, lionfish were likely released off Florida back in the 1980s and have since spread as far as North Carolina and South America.

Brilliant maroon with a “mane” of long, venomous spines, the lionfish is a voracious eater, with no match to its predatory prowess in foreign territory. Scientists fear its rapid reproduction and aggressive appetite will pummel already overfished native stocks of snapper and grouper because they compete for the same food. The spiny swimmers might also dine on algae-eating parrot fish, causing algae to grow out of control and cover reefs.

 The American appetite for seafood may be the best hope against the interloper. Thus the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA) has partnered with chefs and spear fishermen to launch an Eat Lionfish Campaign. Fortunately, the lionfish is said to be scrumptious: a delicate white fish rivaling the taste of grouper and snapper.

A new study by NOAA and North Carolina State University looking at how to put the brakes on the rapid growth of lionfish recommends removing about 27 percent of mature lionfish each month for a year to reduce its population growth to nil. Some Caribbean nations, such as Turks and Caicos, have already gotten a jump on the effort, running year-long tournaments with cash rewards for catching the greatest number of lionfish.

Getting a handle on how much the lionfish population needs to be reduced is a step in the right direction, say NOAA scientists, but more research is needed to better understand how it impacts coral reef environments, trace its population growth, and develop control strategies.

 “Lionfish represent the first reef fish invader to become established in the Atlantic, but as we know from history, invasive species are a persistent problem,” said James Morris, a marine ecologist with NOAA’s Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research, in a statement.  “Understanding the factors involved in the spread of lionfish may help us be better prepared for future invasions.”



“The views expressed in user comments do not reflect the views of Audubon. Audubon does not participate in political campaigns, nor do we support or oppose candidates.”