Pterois volitans, the Red Lionfish, is destroying the ecosystem of the Mexican Caribbean.
Native to the Pacific and Indian oceans, these bewitchingly beautiful fish are highly venomous and have few predators, hence their rapid proliferation.
Researchers have found up to 50 species of juvenile fish in their stomachs, among them parrotfish, which graze on toxic algae that poisons the reef, keeping the coral healthy.
It is estimated that lionfish can consume up to 80 per cent of an area’s small reef fish in the space of just five weeks.
Until the Nineties there had been no sightings of lionfish in the Caribbean or western Atlantic, but some reefs off Florida and South Carolina now harbour 1,000 per acre.
Lionfish rodeos, in which spearfishers hunt down the species, frequently harvest 1,400 in a day.
Numbers have doubled annually since 2010, and the invasion has spread from the United States throughout and all the way down to to Venezuela; passing by the Caribbean Islands, the coasts of the Yucatan Peninsula, and then westward through the Gulf of Mexico.
Nobody knows for sure how the lionfish got here. Some blame it on an incident in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew smashed a seafront aquarium in Florida, releasing lionfish into the wild.
It’s more likely the first specimens came in the ballast tanks of ships from distant oceans or were discarded by amateur aquarists who had simply grown bored with them.
Confident of their place in the food chain, they never dart or hide but float gracefully above the coral with their venomous spines extended like a mane and twirl slowly like ballerinas, as if to say: “Look at me.”
How lionfish took over the Caribbean
Before the Nineties there were no lionfish in the Atlantic, but by 1994 an established population (marked by a red dot) had been spotted off Florida
In the next decade, they colonised the eastern seaboard of the US.
By 2014, the invasion had spread throughout the Caribbean islands and densities had reached 1,000 per acre.
But now, the Fishermen Community in the island of Cozumel, Quintana Roo as well as other Fishing Cooperatives in different coastal towns of the Yucatan Peninsula have found a solution to this ecologic problem, and at the same time, a viable way to take advantage of the increased population of invasive lionfish in the region.
Under the slogan “Eat them to Beat Them”, Lion Fish is becoming a “trendy” plate in restaurants all over the US and the Americas, and therefore, it is now a profitable export product.
Take a look at the list of restaurants currently including Lion Fish in their menues:
- Asha’s Culture Kitchen (Punta Gorda)
- Backpacker’s Paradise (Sarteneja Village)
- Gomier’s (Punta Gorda)
- Hour Bar & Grill (Belize City)
- The Lionfish Grill (Hatchet Caye)
- Maya Beach Bistro (Maya Beach – Stan Creek)
- Pirates Treasure Restaurant and Bar (Ambergris Caye)
- Bistro de Paris
- Cactus Blue Food Truck
- Mona Lisa
- Osaka Sushibar
- Paradise Moon Bar & Restaurant
- Pasa Bon Pizza
- Plazita Limeña
- Rumba Cafe
- Foster’s Food Fair (Grocery Stores)
- Cobalt Coast (Grand Cayman)
- Eagle Ray’s Dive Bar & Grill (Grand Cayman)
- Greenhouse Cafe (Grand Cayman)
- The Hungry Iguana (Little Cayman)
- Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink (Grand Cayman)
- Ristorante Pappagallo (Grand Cayman)
- Rum Point Club (Grand Cayman)
- Stingers Restaurant & Pool Bar (Grand Cayman)
- Tukka Restaurant and Bar (Grand Cayman)
- Chopstix Sushi (Willemstad)
- Fishalicious (Willemstad)
- Iquana Cafe (Willemstad)
- Kunst Kwartier Restaurant and Gallery (Willemstad)
- Landhuis Misje (Sabana Westpunt)
- Sea Side Terrace (Willemstad)
- Seasons Restaurant (Willemstad)
- Saona Café (Bayahibe)
- Bash Restaurant by Mark B (Saint George)
- Barefoot Cay (Roatán)
- Cannibal Café (Roatán)
- Linga Longa Cafe (Roatán)
- Lionfish Louie’s (Roatán)
- Sundowner’s Beach Bar (Roatán)
- Utila Lodge (Utila)
- Little Ochie (Manchester)
- Fishermen’s “Cooperativa”(Cozumel)
- Kondesa (Cozumel)
- La Perlita (Cozumel)
- New Especias (Cozumel)
- Las Brisas Restaurant @ Fairmont Mayakoba (Mayan Riviera)
St. Kitts and Nevis
- Miya’s Sushi (New Haven)
- The Square Grouper Bar & Grill (Cudjoe Key)
- KrazyFish: Thai, Sushi & More (Ft Pierce)
- Chef Michael’s (Islaorada)
- Lazy Days Restaurant (Islamorada)
- Ziggy and Mad Dog”s (Islamorada)
- Food Shack (Jupiter)
- Key Largo Conch House (Key Largo)
- Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen (Key Largo)
- The Fish House Encore (Key Largo)
- Castaway Waterfront Restaurant & Sushi Bar (Marathon)
- Fish Fish (Miami)
- Norman’s Cay (New York City)
- Bistro By The Sea (Morehead City)
- Fleet Landing (Charleston)
- Haven Restaurant (Houston)
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