Although beautiful to look at, the invasive lionfish poses a severe threat to Atlantic and Gulf waters. They are known for having spines that can sting if not handled properly, but the meat is perfectly safe and delicious to eat. In other words, they are venomous but not poisonous. Lionfish is becoming increasingly common on restaurant menus and is even available at Whole Foods grocery stores. Connoisseurs often compare the quality to hogfish – a fine, delicate white meat.
The scientific community concluded that home aquarists are to blame. Much like the python in the Everglades, it only took a few released invasive individuals to begin the breeding cycle. Since they are a new and strange looking species, native fish are not consuming lionfish. Yet lionfish are consuming juvenile native species at an alarming rate. Adding to the problem, they also breed at an amazing rate. Females reach sexual maturity at six months and release up to 30,000 eggs every five days. They now cover the east coast of the U.S., the entire Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic side of Central and South America, and can be found between 2 and 1,000 feet deep.
The most effective way of hunting them, by far, is spearfishing. Since they have no natural predators, they are not wary which makes them easy to spear. Just handle the spines with care and you will be rewarded with a delicious meal while helping the environment!
Lionfish hunting tips:
- First, you must find them! Unfortunately, they are everywhere—look on reefs, wrecks, sometimes out in the open and often in ledges and holes.
- Handle them carefully and do not to let the fins puncture your skin. If stung on the hand, remove any rings right away. The best treatment is heat, which breaks down the venom. Heat packs or hot water collected from the boat exhaust can be used.
- Use the specially designed pole spears (such as Neritic) and use lionfish containers (such as the Zookeeper), which are puncture-proof. These specialty items can be found on the LionfishHunting.com website or your local dive shop.
- Once back on the boat/shore, place lionfish into cooler and continue to handle with care. The protein-based venom is broken down by heat but preserved by the cold.
- Lionfish can be filleted just like any other fish. See LionfishHunting.com for a good set of instructions with photos on how to fillet.
- Lionfish can be prepared like any other white-meat fish. Many recipes can be found online. For an impressive presentation, they can even be cooked whole as cooking neutralizes the venom.
P. S. The Blue Wild Ocean Adventure Expo – which takes place April 2017 in Ft. Lauderdale – will have a Lionfish Pavilion featuring several exhibitors along with a cook-off event where several chefs will be showing off their best recipes and giving samples. Happy Hunting!
Sheri Daye is a world-record holder, host of Speargun Hunter, and producer of “The Blue Wild Ocean Adventure Expo” in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Follow “Sheri Daye” and “The Blue Wild” on Facebook and Instagram.