One Fish we Should Eat into Extinction (Locally)

Good news for seafood eaters–the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) not only endorses, it encourages the eating of lionfish, a tasty species apparently flourishing in the Atlantic Ocean.

“A new study looking at how to curb the rapid growth of lionfish, an invasive species not native to the Atlantic Ocean, suggests that approximately 27 percent of mature lionfish will have to be removed monthly for one year to reduce its population growth rate to zero,” NOAA said in a news release posted on its website this week.

“The good news is that the invasive fish happens to be delicious.”

“But the good news is that the invasive fish happens to be delicious–and NOAA is encouraging chefs to find new ways to introduce it to U.S. consumers,” said the agency charged with understanding and predicting changes in Earth’s environment and conserving and managing coastal and marine resources to meet U.S. economic, social, and environmental needs.


Photo of lionfish courtesy of NOAA

Lionfish are native to the western and central Pacific Ocean, but have established themselves from North Carolina to South America, NOAA explains.

Popular aquarium fish

“They are a popular aquarium fish that were likely first released in Florida waters in the mid-1980s. Since then, the species has spread rapidly. Scientists and public officials are seriously concerned at the effect lionfish are having on reef ecosystems, since this predator is capable of rapid population growth and outcompeting native fish for food and territory.”

lionfish facts.jpg

“This study offers us the first target for fishing and other local control efforts such as lionfish derbies,” says Lad Akins, director of operations for the Reef Environmental and Education Foundation, an organization of divers and marine enthusiasts who are working to combat the lionfish problem.

The effort to fish down the species has already begun, NOAA says.

NOAA adds:

“Caribbean nations such as the Turks and Caicos Islands are encouraging widespread fishing for lionfish by instituting year-long tournaments with cash prizes for the most lionfish caught.

“Authorities are also encouraging a local market for the species, whose delicate white flesh tastes similar to a snapper or grouper.

“NOAA scientists concur that developing a market for lionfish is one of the only ways to substantially reduce their numbers.

“To this end, NOAA has developed an ‘Eat Lionfish’ campaign that brings together fishing communities, wholesalers, and chefs in an effort to broaden U.S. consumers’ awareness of this delicious invader.

“While the study represents a significant step forward in understanding how to turn the tide of the invasion, the study’s authors warn that more work is needed to understand the ecological effects of lionfish, track the population, and develop control strategies.”

Eat Lionfish card .jpg

Card and information courtesy of NOAA

“Lionfish represent the first reef fish invader to become established in the Atlantic, but as we know from history, invasive species are a persistent problem,” says James Morris, a marine ecologist with NOAA’s Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research. “Understanding the factors involved in the spread of lionfish may help us be better prepared for future invasions.”

The study’s recommendation of a 27 percent monthly reduction represents a major fishing effort which may not be feasible in some areas, such as the expansive areas where lionfish have become established off the southeast U.S. coast, but which may be possible in areas where lionfish habitat is more constrained, NOAA says.

The study, a collaboration between scientists from NOAA and North Carolina State University, can be found in the June 2010 issue of Biological Invasions.

Posted by David Braun from media materials provided by NOAA.

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Meet the Author
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn