Please Eat This Dangerous (But Delicious) Fish


Up until recently, the fisheries department in Belize even offered a $50 bounty on each dead lionfish. (Frank & Joyce Burek/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Take a good look at this fish. To the average observer, it may look beautiful -- an excellent addition to your glorious saltwater aquarium. Still others may note those 18 venomous dorsal spines and want nothing to do with it. Well, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has one thing to ask of you if you encounter the lionfish (Pterois volitans) in Atlantic waters:

Kill it and eat it.

In its native Indian and Pacific Ocean habitats, the lionfish pretty much eats what it wants and, for the most part, remains uneaten. Over the last couple of decades, they've rapidly expanded into Atlantic waters, much to the detriment of everything else living there. NPR reported that the fish don't even have to worry about local parasites, as even the microbes don't have a taste for lionfish innards.

The only Atlantic fish bad enough to make a meal out of these spiny villains are groupers and, oops, we humans are too busy overfishing them and drizzling them in butter.

How'd the lionfish get here? Three ways:

  1. Hurricanes in the 1990s introduced them to Atlantic waters.
  2. Aquarium owners released pet lionfish into the wild.
  3. Ships inadvertently brought them over in their ballast tanks.

according to NOAA

coral reef

There's only one species that can keep the lionfish from becoming, in NOAA's words, "the most disastrous marine invasion in history." I think you know which one.

In addition to raising public awareness about the problem and making sure areas are equipped to handle lionfish stings, the agency encourages everyone to eat these things. After all, lionfish are a delicacy in Asia and cooking them cancels out their venom. So a huge part of turning back this undersea invasion has been to convince fishers -- especially Bahamians -- that lionfish belong on the menu. In case you were wondering, it supposedly tastes like tilapia.

As I covered in a recent post, I recently attended an excellent Georgia Aquarium lecture hosted by head divers Jeff Reid and Mauritius Bell. The two men spoke at length about their work with NOAA to gauge lionfish populations. A local filmmaker has also produced a documentary titled "Ocean Invaders" about the risk posed to the Georgia coast. Here's the trailer:

So the next time you're at a restaurant, do the ocean a favor and request that they carry lionfish. Even if you're not that much of an activist, this is a movement you should be able to sink your teeth into.

Put fish in your stomach at HowStuffWorks.com: How Coral Reefs Work How the Georgia Aquarium Works How Kudzu Works 5 Ways to Fish Responsibly


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.