Supermarket giant Whole Foods has recently announced they will start selling lionfish in their Florida stores to consumers.
The store is selling the species in its 26 Florida stores in April as part of an effort to curb the species’ invasive attack in the Gulf Coast, Florida Keys and other regions where scuba divers have no doubt had an encounter with the fish over the past few years.
Indigenous to the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, the species was somehow introduced to Florida waters and is thought to be one of the most destructive species for Caribbean and Atlantic coasts, according to experts and environmentalists.
For one thing, the lionfish has no natural predators, and for another, it lives near and feeds along the coral reefs one of the most fragile environments out there. Lionfish feast on at least 70 different types of delicate reef species that help regulate the harmful local algae populations, and when the food supply has drained, have even resorted to eating each other.
Local predators like grouper and snapper pay no attention to the spindly species, and because the female lionfish can spawn two million eggs a year, the population has been taking off like mad.
There were just a handful of lionfish off the southwestern Florida coast in 1995, and today, the species have been spotted throughout Florida, and all the way to Texas, the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Mexico.
US Authorities have been trying to address the problem since it first became an apparent concern, and for the past several years, have set up campaigns that promote the nutritional and culinary value of the fish. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) even launched an “Eat Lionfish” campaign for local restaurants that provided instruction on how to safely prepare and serve lionfish.
After all, one of the biggest hindrances to simply eliminating the overpopulation through consumption is the fact that lionfish have 18 venomous spines that can, initially, turn any seafood connoisseur away.
But the meat of a lionfish is not, in fact, poisonous, and apparently has a buttery and mild flavor with more Omega 3 fatty acids than any other commonly consumed fish. Also, it’s very low in saturated fats and heavy metals (like mercury), and is pretty darn tasty, according to Whole Foods patrons who have taken the plunge.
Customers who decide to give the fish a try don’t have to worry too much about the scary-sounding “venomous” parts. In-store butchers and fishmongers have been trained to cut away all the poisonous aspects of the lionfish to leave nothing but the meat behind.
If you carve it yourself or get an amateur cut that includes the spine, the venom is not lethal, and the worst you’ll end up with is little nausea.
So what’s the best way to prepare it? Cook it in a skillet with lemon, butter and a light seasoning, and start feasting. Folks who have tried it were even surprised that the fish didn’t even let off a potentially obnoxious “fishy” smell.
By choosing to dine on lionfish as opposed to other popular seafood entrees, you will be full with both a good-tasting dinner, as well as a sense that they’re deliciously doing your part in reducing the lionfish population.
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