The Delectable Lionfish

With all the conservation talk these days, it can be frustrating for some to make decisions about the fish they hunt or eat in accordance with ecological stability, not to mention economic practicality. People in all types of industries are doing their best to adjust their consumption of fish based on sustainable options, as well as keep within a budget. If you live in proximity to the tropical Atlantic near Florida, Caribbean, or Gulf of Mexico, you have been given a mission: hunt and eat as many invasive lionfish as you can get your hands on.

The lionfish, native to Indo-Pacific waters, is becoming more widespread throughout coral reef systems, and shows no signs of stopping. Lionfish are destroying reef ecosystems by not being very particular about what fish they will eat, how rapidly they reproduce, and how fiercely territorial they can be. It is estimated that over 80 percent of reef species have been attacked and destroyed by the lionfish, making this predator claim a spot on the list of 15 top threats to global biodiversity! It is therefore vital that humans play their role in the food chain and start controlling this species’ population in its non-native areas.

It has been said that the lionfish is a mild, buttery whitefish, with a texture suitable for many types of cooking. In fact, one Florida conservation group, Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), has released a cookbook with 45 recipes and tips on how to collect, handle, and prepare the exotic fish. Proceeds of sales will go to REEF’s conservation and research activities.

Now before you jump in the water gung-ho, here are a few lionfish tips for your safety:

  • Lionfish have venomous spines!
    Although the lionfish may look pretty with all those colorful stripes, it is important to remember that their spines are venomous, a hardy defensive mechanism against predators, such as humans. You will want to wear gloves that will protect your hands from being pierced by the fish’s spines. Should you come in contact with the venom, you can expect swelling and possible nausea, dizziness, and vomiting. Wear gloves, even if you are spearfishing.
  • The spines remain venomous even after the lionfish dies!
    The venom is contained within glands on the spines, so you will need to be very careful when removing them for further cleaning of the fish. Hold the fish by its head or underbody while severing the spines and fins to avoid possible injury. The venom can remain active for up to 2 days after the fish is dead, but the venom is rendered harmless through adequate cooking due to its aversion to heat.
  • If you get stung:
    The first thing you want to do is make sure no part of the spine is still in your skin; remove it if so — with a gloved hand. Because each person’s system handles venom differently, it is advised that a victim seek medical attention. While rare, a sting of the lionfish spine can induce emergency situations or death in humans, so don’t take a chance if you are pierced by one! The venom contains proteins that are stifled by heat, so immerse the wound in water as hot as can be stood for 15-30 minutes, or apply a hot compress like a hand warmer or heating pad to the affected area.

Lionfish are rather stationary fish, apt to be standing guard over their territory, so they are a suitable fish to catch with a net. Whatever your choice for catching them may be, use caution and common sense when hunting these creatures, and bon apetit!

Photos via NOAA’s National Ocean ServiceVagabond Shutterbug, gigi_h



  2. I know they are quite tasty! In West Palm Beach they were serving them up to help control the invasive population.

  3. Wow. Didn’t know they spawn that many and matured that fast.

  4. Eat up!

  5. I read an article last week about how fishermen in Belize are learning to catch, sell, and prepare Lionfish. Win win situation. I’ll be there in December and hopefully do a tasting. 😉

  6. but they are beautiful.. do what France did with the Pacific clam.. when the numbers get too high to control call them native!

  7. They are good to eat! But watch those spines…it only takes a couple to do this!

Leave a Reply