Saturday, September 21, 2013

Doing my part - a lionfish recipe.


Lionfish are basically the coolest looking fish EVER.



source



Am I right??

Okay, but here's the thing guys. Lionfish are in the Caribbean. Actually, they're all over the eastern coast of the Americas, and they're spreading FAST. And they're not supposed to be here. Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific, where they have natural predators and their levels are kept in check by mother nature.

Lionfish have no natural predators in the Atlantic. They reproduce at astounding rates. And guess what they like to eat? Baby fishies. Yep. Like tens of thousands of them. They are such assholes. Are you getting the picture here? Lionfish absolutely DECIMATE the reefs. If there's nothing killing them, and they're eating all the juvenile fish who haven't had a chance to reproduce, guess what happens? No more fish.

Statistics vary wildly, but in Roatan, where lionfish first appeared in 2009, it's estimated the general fish population has declined almost 70%. That's in only four years guys. Seventy percent of our fish, gone. You know what happens when there's no fish? There's no good diving. And then there's no tourists. And then a diving-based tourist economy starts to collapse. This pretty little fish is a serious threat to my job, and the livelihood of this island.

What can we do? We're never going to be able to eradicate this fish completely. Karl from Stanley Submarines in West End has seen them down at thousands of feet. But what we can do is become predators to keep the lionfish population in check, since nothing here eats it.

me with my some of my lionfish catch! 3 big ones!

The Roatan Marine Park has sprung into action and developed their lionfish program, which I am proud to be a part of. They issue hawaiian sling style spears (see me holding mine above) and take divers and freedivers through a course to learn to use them without damaging the reef. You are then issued a spear and a 2 year license, and then you can kill as many lionfish as you want. Some dive shops send divemasters with spears on every dive. Our shop doesn't take spears on dives unless the guests request it, but I have a lot of guests who want to see me spear them, so I get to do it quite often. We will also take divemasters in training out on a day with no dive guests, and let them go on a lionfish hunt. We sometimes come back with 20-100 lionfish, depending on how many people go out. I once read that a lionfish can eat 40,000 juvenile fish in 3 years. So I figure even I kill only one lionfish, I saved 40,000 fish!

Why are people hesitant to kill these fish? Yeah. Okay. They have venomous spines. They're nasty! I have seen people get stung by a lionfish (almost always during cleaning the fish afterward, not while hunting) and it is not nice. It's searing unbearable pain for an hour, then horrible aching pain for a day afterward. The sting site balloons up and is swollen for a few days. But taking precautions and being careful usually avoids this.

The flesh of this fish is NOT poisonous. This is local lore. The spines have venom in them, yes, but not the flesh. Once the spines are removed, you can fillet and eat it like any other fish. This is a really important thing we are trying to get across to locals who don't want to eat this fish out of fear of getting poisoned. It just simply isn't true! The flesh is perfectly safe to eat. You shouldn't eat the spines, but who would eat spines anyway? When cooked, lionfish is like any other firm white fish - grouper or halibut are common comparisons. It's also delicious in ceviche or sushi!

So how can you help? Aside from supporting lionfish programs... EAT LIONFISH! Ask restaurants in areas where lionfish are an invasive species why they aren't serving it. Ask local fisherman why they aren't catching it. Demand for it will drive the prices up, and make it financially worthwhile for people to catch them. We have a restaurant on Roatan now called Lionfish Louie's which everyone is thrilled with [note: due to..well..what seems to be chalked up to 'drama', Lionfish Louie's is currently closed. Sorry if you came here after Googling the restaurant. I will remove this notice once it reopens.]. I hope to see more! On Roatan we also have yearly Lionfish Derbies as well as local recipe contests and events. Every lionfish killed helps save the reef!

Edit: Alex from Ifs Ands & Butts was awesome enough to send me a link to Traditional Fisheries,  a progressive commercial supplier of lionfish. Please check out their website, their fishing co-ops, and buy some lionfish!

one of our lionfish hauls at my dive shop


I eat lionfish at least once a week, or more if we catch a lot at the dive shop. Guys, if you catch it yourself it's free food. FREE! FOOD! My two favorite things. A lot of times divers at my resort ask me to catch them and they get the chef at the resort to prepare it for them for dinner! I like it best fried, but you can do anything with it that you do with other firm white fish.

If you want to learn more about lionfish as an invasive species and what you can do, please check out REEF.org's Lionfish Research Program. And to all of you in SE Asia and the rest of the Indo-Pacific where this is a native species.... I'm sorry for you having to hear about us killing all these beautiful fish. But we would like you to take them all back over where they belong :)

For my contribution, here is the recipe for my breakfast this morning - lionfish poached eggs!


Poached Eggs with Lionfish


You will need:
  • 1 lionfish fillet - size is up to you, depends on what you want to eat. What you see in the photo is 1/2 a decent size fillet (I gave the other half to a feral cat outside my house)
  • breading mixture for lionfish - I used a couple tablespoons of flour, a teaspoon of corn starch, a teaspoon of panko and some salt & pepper
  • two corn tortillas
  • a lime
  • two eggs
  • cabbage or other veggies of your choice
  • 1/2 can of black beans
  • green onions or chives
  • whatever you want to serve it with - mine had pickled hearts of palm and caraway sauerkraut!
This is a really loose recipe. I'm not going to explain how to poach an egg. Google that shit! Anyway, basically I breaded and fried the lionfish fillet, then broke it up after it was done cooking (only a couple minutes on each side! fish cooks fast!). I warmed the corn tortillas on my gas grill, heated up the beans in a small pot with the juice of half the lime and seasoned them with salt and pepper. Threw the beans on the tortillas, cut up a little cabbage and got that on there, topped that with the poached eggs. On top of the eggs I put the lionfish and the green onions. Just like you see in the photo! Then I devoured it. It was delicious.


Everyone living in areas where lionfish are invasive needs to do their part to help get the population under control. Until we find a better solution, killing (and eating!) them is our best option. Save the reef, eat a lionfish!


Have you ever eaten lionfish? Would you?



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26 comments:

  1. It's so strange... lionfish really are beautiful, yet I was also aware that they are invasive and extremely damaging to the reefs. It's great that you guys have an initiative to combat this problem, and eating them is a great way, haha a girl after my own heart. :) I've never tried lionfish (to my knowledge :|) but I definitely would if I had the change. It's tragic that there are endangered fish in the Caribbean being served up to tourists who don't know any better while there are fish like lionfish that NEED to be eaten!

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    1. When I first started killing them I felt SO bad, but I keep telling them to go back home or else I'll have to do it :) They're so pretty, but so destructive here. The Roatan Marine Park has partnered with a lot of restaurants here and created a "Sustainable Fish Eating Guide" which is posted in many restaurants and a lot of them follow it. But unfortunately a lot of the locals have been catching and eating whatever they want for many years, and it will take a long time (and a good alternative) to convince them otherwise.

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  2. Wow, this is SO interesting! I honestly had no idea... Such a great idea though for diver's to be spearing them daily (& eating of course!)... I've never tried lionfish myself but imagine I would love it as I do most fish. Great job on your part for supporting the movement! :) x

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    1. Yeah, lots of people have no idea unless they're in an area that they've become invasive! Glad you would try it :)

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  3. Oh my god. I have waited my entire life for the moment where I could save the world by eating something. This is what I was born for.

    Okay, maybe it's a specific portion of the marine ecosystem and not EXACTLY the world, but it's close enough. I WILL NOM MY WAY TO VICTORY.

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    1. RIGHT!?! Oh hey, we can solve this problem by EATING. Best. Ever. I will always throw my weight behind a cause that asks me to eat :)

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  4. Wow - I had no idea about the lion fish invading the Caribbean.

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    1. Yep - lots of theories on how they got there, but the biggest one seems to circle around some getting out of aquariums during Hurricane Andrew in Florida in 1992... only six or something like that, but these things can repopulate like nobody's business. They were first sighted on our reef here on Roatan in 2009.

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  5. Great article, Rika! Thanks for sharing the info. I've never thought about eating Lionfish... the spines do have venom in them! I have to really trust the cook :) And totally agree, it is the coolest looking fish ;)

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    1. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. And yes, as long as you don't eat the spines, or get poked by the spines, you will be totally fine :) The flesh isn't attached to the spines so as long as you remove them, you're good to chow down!

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  6. I feel weird about hunting and killing lion fish since they're so pretty & weird and it's ok for them to be here in Asian waters, but they have no place being in your neck of the woods, so hunt away! Time for humans to become their biggest predator! Overfishing is such a huge issue, it's kind of nice that people can fish for lion fish as much as they want and actually do a service to the reefs and help keep them healthy!

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    1. I know! Everyone from over in Asia is all WTF ARE YOU DOING but they don't realize how off-balance they're making the ecosystem here :( Hopefully in time other marine creatures will figure out how to eat them, but that's a ways away. Now if we can just convince the fishermen to catch this instead of taking up all the conch and lobster...

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  7. Wow, I had absolutely no idea that they were killing the reefs out there. I'm so used to being wowed by them in Asia. I certainly wouldn't want to touch one of their spikes though!

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    1. Yeah, it's a real bummer! Everyone who's been in SE Asia is surprised haha. It's too bad :(

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  8. This is so interesting! I knew that lion fish were damaging the reefs, primarily because last time we went diving in the Caribbean the dive master speared one, but I had no idea that they were edible. I'm not sure why they wouldn't be edible.. the thought just never crossed my mind! I would love to try a recipe for them! :)

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    1. Well, a lot of the times they are more focused on killing them than worrying about eating them... but I figure, why waste it, right? We have to take them off the reef anyway - some divemasters were just cutting their throats and throwing them off their spears onto the reef, but the Marine Park said no... apparently they can still release their eggs, and I failed to mention in this post that lionfish are the cockroaches of the sea - you can spear them straight through the brain, slice them open, and some will STILL be alive. I've had them get off my spear before and re-speared them 3 or 4 times and they'll take off and not die. It's ridiculous. So we want to make sure we take them out of the water so there's no chance of eggs releasing or them not actually dying. And they are delicious! Definitely try some next time you're in the Caribbean!

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  9. Tasty looking recipe Rika!! I have eaten lionfish in St Maarten, it was in a stew/soup so it tasted like all the rest of the Caribbean food I was eating! Although I haven't actually killed one myself... I'll have to try it! ha ha

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    1. Hmmm I've never had it in a soup! Gonna have to try that one. And yes, when you're around the Caribbean again you should def learn how to kill them! xo

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  10. It must be a weird feeling to swim with them and then see them on your plate, grilled or baked :-). I love the recipe. Sounds so easy, healthy and yummy. I will try to make it soon but with some salmon.

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    1. It's a little weird, especially since we preach the "no touch, no take" policy all the time with guests on the reef. This recipe with salmon would be awesome too!!

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  11. Ok this is so crazy to read about because I actually saw this as a pitch on the ABC show Shark Tank? Have you heard of this? Well, they were trying to pitch lion fish as the next big fish due to all the reasons you just said.

    Here's the episode recap: http://abc.go.com/shows/shark-tank/episode-guide/episode-420 and more on it: http://sharktanksuccess.blogspot.com/2013/03/traditional-fisheries-lionfish.html

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    1. AHHH awesome! That's great! Thanks for sharing - I don't get TV down here :)

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  12. Get rid of those Lionfish! Bastards!

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  13. Have you dove Bonaire? I'm accustomed to seeing lionfish pretty much everywhere I go in the Caribbean these days, sadly, but DUDE, I'd see 20 per dive on Bonaire. We were tagging up a storm there!

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    1. Not yet, but I'm looking into it right now...some sweet job offers going there at the moment that I'm pretty interested in. Maybe they need me there to kill their lionfish :)

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