"To protect and restore the Florida coastal and Indian River Lagoon ecosystems
through education, research and community stewardship."

Lionfish Now Appearing On Plates Near You

Apr 24th, 2015 | Category: Coastal Corner, MDC News

By Lisa D. Mickey
For the last few years, I’ve spent time talking about invasive lionfish on my eco-tours at the Marine Discovery Center.

I’ve explained how these highly recognizable and ornate natives of Indo-Pacific waters have overtaken our coastlines from South and Central America to the Caribbean and as far north in the Atlantic Ocean as Rhode Island.

I’ve described how females can release more than 30,000 eggs every four to five days and up to two million eggs each year. And I’ve noted that you don’t have to be good in math to figure out that when a fish like this reproduces so prolifically and has no predators, there’s going to be a real problem with our native fish populations.

Just as the faces of our eco-tour guests have reflected shock and dismay at these facts, I’ve offered some good news: these creatures — even with 18 venomous spines — are edible!

For a few years, all I could say was I had heard these fish were tasty if you could get them. And I would add that some regional restaurants were starting to carry lionfish on their menus, if only as specials.

But at last, I was able to finally taste lionfish myself during a visit to Dimitris Restaurant in Daytona Beach, Fla. Sitting on an outdoor upper deck with friends, my eyes bugged and my senses came alive when the waitress placed a giant plate of whole lionfish in front of me. Sitting there beside the potatoes was the fish that had been the focus of so many discussions, symposium and lecture topics and environmental horror stories.

All I could think was, had we finally struck revenge with this non-native predator that so voraciously vacuums up the juvenile fish in our beloved Indian River Lagoon? And with meals like this, were we establishing a new market for consumers to taste the delicious un-fishy, sweet white meat of a fish in desperate need of a gastronomic fan club?

I think so, and honestly, I enjoyed every bite. Even the restaurant advertised on its street sign the message, “Help Florida. Eat lionfish here.” That, we did.

And as they sometimes say with invasive species, if you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em.