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Invasive lionfish

Dealing with Invasive Lionfish in Honduras

Invasive lionfish are ravaging the reefs of Honduras and elsewhere in the Caribbean. But there’s something that you can do about it – start eating! This article contains a link (or links) to Amazon, from which, as an Amazon Associate, this website will earn a small commission if you make any purchases.

The Caribbean has been the focus of a growing invasion since the 1980s. We’re talking, of course, about the lionfish intruding our waters.

If you aren’t aware of the devastation these magnificent-looking fish with the prodigious appetites are causing, I’ll explain.

I first noticed these fish through a buddy who was operating a dive boat out of Trujillo, Honduras. My wife, Charlene, and I had spent the day minding the boat topside, while he, his partner, and a friend dove a wreck and went spearfishing. They came up with nets full of lionfish with spines still attached – they had forgotten to take scissors down to cut them off before stuffing them in the catch bag.

When we arrived back, the sea was choppy and leaving the boat was a challenge. Without a dock, we had to jump into the shallow water before wading ashore.

As Charlene was standing to get off, a large wave hit us causing her to stumble and head towards the bag of fish with their exposed needles. Luckily, I caught her and prevented her from getting stung.

As we later found out, lionfish venom, contained in an array of up to 18 needle-like dorsal fins, can cause a mighty sting.

Although agony to humans, causing nausea and breathing difficulties in some, a lionfish sting is rarely fatal. Fortunately, we never discovered if Charlene would be more affected than others.

Later that evening, our friends cooked up a tasty feast of fried lionfish fillets.

A little sweet-tasting, with a texture like a halibut, I never ate a fish as good (other than salmon) and it’s now my favorite fish dinner here in Honduras. It aroused my interest in these lovely looking fish.

What are lionfish?

Lionfish originate in Southeast Asian waters, from around Indonesia. For years, they’ve been staples in tropical aquariums around the world, due to their natural beauty.

No-one’s sure how they arrived in the Caribbean, far from their natural waters, but theories abound. Some believe they were released by accident from a marine aquarium when Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992. Others say they came in the ballast of cruise ships, which emptied their water in Florida ports. Another likely reason is home aquarium owners in Florida and around the Gulf dumping them in the ocean or even the toilet.

However they arrived, they’ve spread deep into the Caribbean Sea over the past few decades, ravaging reefs across Honduras and elsewhere in Central America, and causing tremendous damage to the ecosystem.

As lionfish originate outside the Caribbean, they have no natural predators in these waters. As such, they’ve been crowding out the local fish, and they also have a remarkable breeding ability – an individual female can produce two million eggs in a year – three to four times that of native species. Oh, and they can eat up to 30 times their stomach volume in a single day!

The good news is that lionfish make for very tasty eating. They’re also good for you, with high concentrations of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, higher than snapper, grouper, tilapia, wahoo, mahi-mahi, bluefin tuna, and others. And they’re low in metals like mercury and lead.

What’s being done to control these invasive lionfish?

On the island of Roatán, here in Honduras, local divers are attempting to give sharks a taste for the alien reef species. The idea is that if lionfish become prey to sharks, in time they may be kept under control as a part of the ecosystem.

While efforts to tame the invasive lionfish haven’t worked, now these fish with their insatiable appetites are devouring each other – although the chances are that won’t diminish their numbers much.

The best way to reduce the lionfish population is simple and obvious: EAT THEM!

If you see them on the menu in Honduras, try them. You’ll find any number of restaurants along the coast or on the Bay Islands serving lionfish whenever available.

At the fish market, pick up some fillets or whole fish. The white, buttery meat is perfect for everything. Lionfish are delicious, well worth your effort to try regardless of how dangerous their venomous spines may look. Try them fried, baked, as ceviche, all are excellent (and safe). For some more tasty lionfish recipe ideas, check out The Lionfish Cookbook on Amazon.

You won’t regret it!

Paul McCurdy is a part-time resident of Trujillo, Honduras since 1996.  He and his wife Charlene delight in sharing their experiences of Honduras on their Hola Honduras blog and on their Facebook page.

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