1) Lionfish, belonging to the genus Pterois, is native to the Pacific and Indian oceans. They inhabit the coral reefs and lagoons and predate the small fish. Lionfish is now abundantly encountered in the United States East coast and Caribbean Sea.
There is a speculation that the lionfish was released from an aquarium in South Florida in the hurricane Andrew in 1992, although the lionfish was first discovered in the South Florida much earlier in 1985. In the last two decades the lionfish particularly the P. volitans species has expanded largely across Western Atlantic and Caribbean (Albins and Hixon, 2011). It is now encountered in Georgia, Bermuda, South Carolina, North Carolina, Bermuda, Bahamas and even Barbados.
2) Studies on the dissection of the stomachs of lionfish revealed that it preys on small juvenile fish, invertebrates and mollusks. Lionfish has very few predators belonging to the groupers and sharks, and could be attributed to the presence of their venomous spines. They have decreased the juvenile coral reef fish population by 70 % and are known to consume about 20 fish in 30 min (Albins and Hixon, 2011). By consuming and eliminating the herbivorous fish in the coral reefs and hence increasing the seaweed population, the lion fish is posing a threat to the stability of the coral reef environment. Lionfish is an extremely fertile species and a female lionfish can release up to 2 million eggs per year, making it a ferocious invader and a prolific breeder. The environmental and economic cost of handling invasive species exceeds over 120 billion dollars in United States (Albins and Hixon, 2011). The idea of using invasive species as a culinary resource could improve the local income of the community and hence stimulate the economy temporarily. Although it may seem like a boost to the economy, invasive species could pose a potential threat to the overall economy in the long run. Using an invasive species as a resource in a growing market, may cause introduction of the species in a new uninvaded environment. Instead of removing these harmful species from the environment, people will start protecting them, making their management and eradication even more difficult. (Nunez, 2012)
3) One of the most commonly used methods to counter the lionfish expansion has been their regular collection by the divers who trapped the fish locally. Lionfish catching competitions have been conducted which collect around thousands of fish per day followed by cookouts. Many such events and programs have been sponsored and organized by voluntary organizations like Reef environmental Education Foundation (REEF). Although this approach serves to reduce the numbers, it may cause inadvertent removal of beneficial fishes in the coral reef that clear out the harmful sea weeds and have a detrimental effect on the coral reefs (Albins and Hixon, 2011).
Several marine grouper fishes like the tiger grouper and the blue spotted cornetfish prey on the lionfish. The spread of these invaders can be controlled by preventing the overfishing and massive killing of their predators in the Atlantic ocean. Another popular strategy of controlling the invasive species population is incorporating them in our diet regularly (Rosenthal, 2011). For instance this method is becoming very popular as a measure for eradication of the lionfish invasion and due to the health benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids derived from these invasive species. Yet another interesting and innovative approach taken by divers in Honduras is the training of sharks to prey on and eat the lionfish. Sharks are resistant to the venomous spines of the lionfish and are fast learning animals, thus making them good candidates for training them in controlling the lionfish population.
4) The idea suggested by Uncle Joe on introduction of lion fish in the holiday dinner is a responsible thought on his part and a great effort towards contributing to a huge environmental problem. It is sensible to replace a meal with an invasive fish instead of feasting on already endangered species or a predator of invasive species like a shark. Also lionfish is known to be a richer source of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids relative to the tilapia and other varieties.
Considering the potentially positive environmental consequences and health benefits, eating lionfish may seem like a tempting initiative towards exterminating the environmentally harmful and aggressively growing invasive species. However, there are many caveats and problems associated with this idea. As mentioned earlier, marketing of an invasive species may prove to be detrimental in the long run if fishers start adding them into new locations, thus promoting their invasion rather than curbing them. Also, although lionfish is considered a safe and edible fish for eating provided it is cleaned well and its venomous spines are removed, there is a bit of a controversy on it being safe for human consumption. FDA has not yet approved its use and consumption due to the presence of a ciguatera toxins found in the lionfish (JoNel, 2012). This toxin present in the sea plants travels up the food chain though the small herbivorous fishes, which are then predated by lionfish and other bigger fishes. Ciguatera toxin poisoning has been shown to cause nausea, diarrhea, fatigue and severe neurological problems.
In conclusion, keeping in mind the above mentioned concerns and negative impact of consuming lionfish or other invasive species, I would not endorse the idea of eating lionfish as a meal without being completely aware and assured of its economic, environmental and health implications. I also believe that an extensive biological research on the genetic makeup and immune system of lionfish may possibly reveal more parasites and environmental factors which can be further employed to manipulate and target these invasive species.
Rosenthal, E. (2011). Answer for Invasive species: Put it on a plate and eat it. NY Times.com
Albins, M.A, and Hixon, M.A. (2011). Worst case scenario: potential long-term effects of invasive predatory lionfish (Pterois volitans) on Atlantic and Caribbean coral-reef communities. Environ Biol Fish.
Nunez, M.A., Kuebbing, S., Dimarco, R.D, and Simberloff D. (2012) Invasive Species: to eat or not to eat, that is the question. Conservation Letters, 0, 1-8
JoNel, A. (2012, June 27). Eat lionfish? Sure, but beware of the nasty toxins. NBC news.
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