South Florida is well known for its gorgeous coral reef systems. It is unique to most other parts of the country in how accessible it is to people. This being said, the marvel that is our coastal waterways has become stressed to strong degree in recent years. This is all due to an invasive intruder, the lionfish.
Floridians know all too well the consequences of an unchecked invasive predator. Pythons, in particular, have been an absolute terror on the everglades. Initially native to Indo-Pacific waters, the lionfish has now firmly established itself within the southeastern coast of the United States, in addition to parts of the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. While the specifics of how they found their way into our part of the globe are still not precise, it is generally accepted that like the python, they may have been carelessly dumped into the wild by exotic pet owners.
While typically not able to survive in cold waters, they have found a liking to the southeastern marine waterways due to the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Streams naturally warm currents are similar to their native homelands. To make matters worse, it is speculated that lionfish larvae may travel further up the coast of the United States, proliferating themselves to an even further degree. You see, in their natural environment, they reproduce en-masse. Females are known to lay up to 2 million eggs per year. This is what allows them to escape predation. Unfortunately, the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico are not host to any known predators of this particular species, which is what is allowing them to reproduce at such an alarming rate.
Why exactly is the growing number of these fish concerning? You see, the Lionfish has no natural predators in this region of the world. They go about their way unchecked. They also happen to be fiercely aggressive predators themselves. They done tremendous damage to local stocks of crustaceans, as well as their affinity for feeding on grouper and snapper in the younger phases of their lives. This not only harms the local ecosystem, but also the economy as commercial fishing is impacted. To make matters worse, the NOAA has stated that lionfish populations will continue to flourish as marine invasive species are near-impossible to eradicate once established.
You may be wondering how the lionfish is able to get away with such a strong-armed assault on our ecosystem. They carry out their brutal assault through the use of their venomous spines. This allows them to attack other fish with impunity. The sting of their spines is also widely feared by humans, described as being agonizingly painful.
But what can the concerned, environmentally conscious Floridian do about this ever-growing problem. Eat them. According to the Lionfish Hunters Association, the lionfish is known to be higher in omega-3 fatty acids than most other species of fish that are served in restaurants, as well as being lower in mercury content. On top of the known health benefits, they are widely lauded as being delicious. While they do come equipped with venomous spines, they are completely safe to eat, even in a ceviche!
Lionfish cannot be farmed, so each time you order a plate of it in a restaurant, you are directly supporting the extermination of an invasive alien species, a fish that is really causing serious havoc on our local environment. It is also widely encouraged to hunt them. Take a gander at the Lionfish Hunter’s official website for more details on what we’ve discussed.