Changing Planet

Lionfish: Gotta Eat ‘Em to Beat ‘Em

Products like this license plate help inform people that eating lionfish is a sustainable seafood option. Photo by Erin Spencer.
Products like this license plate help inform people that eating lionfish is a sustainable seafood option. Photo by Erin Spencer.

National Geographic Young Explorer Erin Spencer will spend one month in the Florida Keys documenting efforts by beachside locals to contain a recent and dangerous influx of invasivelionfish. Follow along with The Lionfish Project on Explorers Journal, Erin’s project website,Facebook page, and Twitter


Big problems call for big solutions, and there has been a lot of talk recently about how to address the big problem of invasive lionfish in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. Although experts believe complete eradication of lionfish is highly unlikely, we can – and should – work toward population control. Divemasters are hunting them on dives, conservation organizations like REEF are hosting successful lionfish derbies, and lobstermen are hauling them up by the hundreds in their traps. But how can the average person help the lionfish problem?

The answer is simple. Eat them.

Fortunately for us, lionfish have moist, buttery meat that is often compared to hogfish, one of the most popular reef fish served in restaurants. The mild taste and flakey texture allow lionfish meat to be prepared in a wide variety of different ways. From raw to deep fried, grilled to blackened, lionfish dishes are bound to fit anyone’s taste. By eating lionfish, you’re not only treating yourself to a new, tasty dish, but also doing your part to help save native reef fish from this voracious predator.  Not to mention it’s good for you- lionfish have proven to be high in Omega 3 fats, which play a crucial role in brain function and may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Looking for a little inspiration? Below are a few of my favorite recipes for preparing lionfish. For more ideas, check out REEF’s Lionfish Cookbook, and then ask your local fish provider about how to get your hands on this delicious intruder.

Remember: Eat sustainable, eat lionfish!

Lionfish Ceviche prepared by Chef Kareem Anguin from the Oceanaire Seafood Room in Miami. Photo by Erin Spencer.
Lionfish Ceviche prepared by Chef Kareem Anguin from the Oceanaire Seafood Room in Miami. Photo by Erin Spencer

Castaway’s Wreck Diver-style Lionfish

Courtesy of Castaway Waterfront Restaurant and Sushi Bar in Marathon Key, Florida


  • 42 ounces lionfish fillets, patted dry
  • flour (for coating)
  • 5 cloves garlic, diced
  • 2½ cups chopped tomatoes
  • 5 tsp. capers
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 T. chopped fresh basil
  • parsley or kale for garnish
  • lemon wedge for garnish

Preparation: Dredge fillets in flour to lightly dust. Place in sauté pan with small amount of hot butter over medium heat. Cook first side, careful not to burn.

Turn over fish when golden, and reduce heat while adding garlic, tomatoes, capers, white wine and lemon juice. Cover to hold steam in and cook until fish is fork-tender. Add basil and serve immediately. Garnish with sprig of parsley or kale and lemon wedge.


Castaway’s Wreck-Diver style lionfish- a personal favorite. Photo by Erin Spencer.

Lionfish Ceviche

Courtesy of Tricia Ferguson and Lad Akins of The Lionfish Cookbook


  • 8 Lionfish fillets
  • 1 tomato
  • 2 scotch bonnet peppers
  • ½ onion
  • 8 limes
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

PreparationDice fish into 1-inch pieces and place in a shallow dish. In a small bowl, juice the 8 limes. Add the limejuice to fish and marinate 1 ½ hours.

Dice the onions, tomatoes, and scotch bonnet peppers, and add to fish mixture. Stir in salt and cilantro. Cover and place back in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Remove from refrigerator and serve.


NEXT: The Hunt for Invasive Lionfish Begins

Erin Spencer is a National Geographic Young Explorer Grantee and an undergraduate student at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Her research focuses on local responses to invasive lionfish in the Florida Keys, mainly highlighting individuals who are developing unique ways to address the lionfish problem. Previously, she interned in the National Geographic Digital Media Travel department.
  • Jasmine

    Lionfish is so delicious i really like this article it tells alot about how crazy it can be to eat a fish that dosn’t seam to nice to eat.

  • Gary

    In order to be able to help out with the eating of Lionfish, it would be helpful if there were a site you could go to, to find local Restaurants in your area that serve this fish.

  • Utdeere

    How do clean the lion fish after catching them?

  • Scott

    The lion fish have made a large impact in the Caribbean, where they have no natural predators. Some of the islands down here have made concerted efforts to eradicate these invaders, such as spearfishing tournaments to haul in as ,many of these fish as possible. These efforts have been only marginally successful. Hopefully, if enough people decide that the lionfish is something special to eat, the demand will catch up with the supply – but I’d be surprised, as these fish are too small to be commercially viable.

  • Eleanor

    I’m all for the idea-now where do I get them?????

  • bob

    We went spear fishing for lion fish in Mexico — afterwards, ceviche — outstanding (and I don’t normally like ceviche) — I think maybe because of the diet of the lion fish.

  • John Kessell

    The ceviche recipe..TWO Scotch bonnet peppers?
    They braver than me!

  • Skw

    I tasted lionfish while I was in Belize. It’s an invasive spice there as well. In one of our expedition, we caught over 10 and brought it back to cook. It had such sweetness to it!
    I love the taste of it. I wish we can purchase it here in Canada!

  • Michael

    I heard about this from some friends who are avid divers. Interesting to me personally because I purchased one of these creatures as a “baby” about 2 or 3 inches long and was amazed by it until it was about 10 inches ! Maybe about 3 years or so… It died from a disease so no I wasn’t the one who let it go to wreak havoc on the ecosystem. I will attest that this fish would consume 3 to 6 live feeders within about 1 minute! I can see why they are destroying the reef system! But he was beautiful and fun to have as a pet…

  • Dan Dermody

    Where in the Greater Cincinnati can you find Lion fish?

  • Stephanie
  • Monica Högger

    People from Cozumel, began to eat lion fish. It is very important to finish it!!, it is such a predator!, you can see diverse videos about it in youtube

  • zeljka

    In my country we dont have moust opportunity to catch or by lionfish in a fishmarket but in a future, who knows …
    we have beautiful sea, Adriatic sea, so if you have a chance you are wellcome to visit our beautiful coastline, our islands and enjoy the beautiful clear blue sea…

  • Frances Camacho

    Don’t see lionfish in these parts…

  • Samantha

    YUM! For all those lionfish haters
    -5 year old who acctually cares

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