SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic, 2013 – In a region renowned for scuba diving and snorkelling, conservationists are urging Caribbean people to eat the red lionfish that has invaded Caribbean waters and threatens to devastate the marine ecosystem in the region.
Researchers say divers and fisherman appear to be the only players that can do anything to keep lionfish numbers down, adding that native predators, such as large groupers and sharks don’t recognize lionfish as a prey, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
“In addition to further research, it seems that the only thing we can do to control lionfish at this point is to keep spearing them,” says Serena Hackerott, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina.
Hackerott, the lead author on a 2013 study published in PLOS One, found native predators such as large groupers and sharks are not controlling lionfish populations to a discernible degree.
“I think that’s our best bet now. “I’m not optimistic that natural resistance is going to be enough of an interdiction to control the population.”
Hackerott said the lionfish gobble up the small native fish that are an integral piece of the food chain and an important link in maintaining dazzling underwater seascapes.
With no natural predators or diseases to keep the population in check, the Christian Science Monitor said the lionfish is now found on nearly every coral reef, multiplying very fast.
Lacking other options, the publication reported that conservationists are pushing a simple message: capture the lionfish and cook them.
The international news magazine says conservation groups have worked with local communities to teach them how to capture and then process lionfish, pointing out how to avoid getting pricked by the venomous spines.
It said the venomous fins are easily removed, and that lionfish are completely safe to eat.
“It’s a great eating fish. Even in places where it’s not being consumed or offered in a restaurant or at a fish retailer, there’s a lot of personal consumption taking place,” said Lad Akins, director of special projects at REEF, a Key Largo, non-profit Florida-based marine conservation.