Species Profile: Lionfish

Here at Invasivore.org we’re working hard to be a central source for bringing together recipes and other information about eating invasive species, because awareness is the key to reducing their harmful biological and social impacts.  However, for one or two species the internet and popular media is way ahead of us.  Instead of swimming against this tide, we’ve put together what the internet has to offer on these species and we’re moving on to less stirred waters.  First up is the lionfish, its on-going invasion  in Florida and throughout the Caribbean,  and its invasivory.  You’ll recall that two of our first Weekly Invasivore Round-Up items highlighted lionfish.

SpeciesLionfish (Pterois volitans/miles

Lionfish photo courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org



The lionfish is a very popular aquarium fish.  Its “candy” or “zebra” like stripes and specially adapted and beautiful fins make this fish a sight to behold.  These beautiful accessories also serve an evolutionary purpose that is helping it invade Florida’s coasts and much of the Caribbean by keeping lionfish at the top of their coral food webs.  In addition to providing excellent camouflage and increasing their apparent size, their fin spines harbor a painful and potent toxin.  Lionfish are dangerous to swimmers and divers when stung but the flesh of the fish, thankfully, is not harmful to invasivores.  And by all accounts, it’s also very tasty.

NOAA and the USGS have recently put together a very complete assessment of the lionfish invasion.   In addition to their impacts on recreation, lionfish also consume large numbers of many types of prey and have been shown to reduce recruitment of native fish.

Native range:

Map produced by www.aquamaps.org with source data from Global Biodiversity Information Facility and Ocean Biogeographic Information System

Global Biodiversity Information Facility and Ocean Biogeographic Information System

Mode of Introduction:

As with many invasive species, how they became so prevalent in the environment is not known for certain, but there are several likely hypotheses.  The first recorded release was 1992, when Hurricane Andrew destroyed a beach-side aquarium in Biscayne Bay.  Only six fish escaped but they were later observed alive nearby (Ruiz-Carus and others 2006.  Biological Conservation 128(3):384-390).  It’s also thought that many other intentional releases have occurred when aquarium enthusiasts, with the best intentions, have released their pets into the wild  (www.fishbase.org).

Current known Invasive Locations & Suitable Habitat:

The first map below displays the known locations of lionfish on the Atlantic seaboard, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico.  The lower map displays the results of a computer generated model which predicts the probability that lionfish could invade a given area based on habitat characteristics.   Darker red indicates a higher probability that lionfish could invade that area.  You can see the potential impacts are wide ranging.

Map produced by the USGS
Map produced by www.aquamaps.org with source data from Global Biodiversity Information Facility and Ocean Biogeographic Information System

Harvesting and preparing:

The only effective way to collect lionfish is by spear-fishing or netting using snorkeling or SCUBA, as in the video from our first Weekly Invasivore Round-up, and these Lionfish Derbies (also see here) in the Florida Keys.  Also The Locavore Hunter, and The Discovery Channel.  For hunting and cleaning lionfish, see The Lionfish Hunter.

Some Recipes:

The Lionfish Hunter claims to have the largest collection anywhere of lionfish recipes, and we agree.

Eat a Lionfish – Save a Caribbean Reef

The Washington Post’s Lionfish Romesco Stew

UPDATE: Planetgreen

Lionfish in the Media:

Associated Press




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