Divers Can Help Tame Lionfish in the Florida Keys

Food — By Julie on May 19, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Capturing lionfish is a way for divers who enjoy the Florida Keys reefs, and to help protect them and in a hands-on way. They also happen to taste great.

Rapidly growing populations in Atlantic waters of the non-native Indo-Pacific red lionfish are out-competing native fish for food and territory due to lack of predators and prolific, year-round reproduction.

It is believed that the popular aquarium fish was first released in Florida waters during the 1980s and is considered an invasive species with no natural reef predators, except man. Lionfish prey on invertebrates and juvenile fish such as grunts and hamlets, but their voracity has burgled both space and food resources from domestic species like grouper and snapper.

Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), whose mission is to conserve marine ecosystems for their recreational, commercial, and intrinsic value, seeks to educate, enlist, and enable divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active stewards and citizen scientists.

Catch and Eat

REEF has published The Lionfish Cookbook, designed to encourage the removal and consumption of the invasive Indo-Pacific red lionfish through 45 delicious recipes to prepare the delicate, mild white meat of the lionfish, considered a delicacy. Its white meat is likened to snapper, grouper, and hogfish.

Authored by personal chef Tricia Ferguson and REEF’s Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, with photos by David M. Stone, the cookbook offers great recipes, background information about the lionfish biology and ecology, and how to effectively collect and handle lionfish.  To learn more or to purchase a cookbook, visit www.REEF.org.

Diver Derbies

For the second year, REEF has partnered with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to create fishing derbies for the dive community to capture and remove non-native lionfish from Keys waters.

Upcoming derby dates are Aug. 20 at Coconuts Restaurant, located at mile marker 100 in Key Largo and Nov. 5 at the Hurricane Hole Marina in Key West.

Derby divers who remove lionfish from sanctuary waters are eligible for cash and prizes — more than $3,000 per derby — in addition to helping preserve Florida Keys habitats and eco-systems.

At the close of each derby, banquets awarding divers for the most, biggest, and smallest lionfish, as well as an open-to-the-public tasting to sample lionfish ceviche and fried fish bites, follows.

Divers can participate in a derby from their own private vessel or join a local dive operator’s charter. For complete information and team registration, visit www.reef.org/lionfish/derbies or call 305-852-0030.

Tags: diving, Florida Keys, Florida Keys and Key West, florida keys diving, Keys seafood, lionfish