Eleuthera is the birthplace of the Bahamas and was once noted as the pineapple capital of the world, but this authentic Bahamian island is also known for the invasive species, lionfish—an angelic-like fish identified for its reddish-brown zebra stripes and 18 venomous spines. Although these beautiful creatures are the showstoppers when snorkeling coral reefs in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, they’re threatening marine life in these foreign waters.
So, where’s home? These virulent predators are indigenous to the Indo-Pacific and the Red Sea but can be spotted at home aquariums across North America. In the 1980s it was rumored that fish tank owners released these rapid breeding fish into the Atlantic, causing lionfish to breed in non-native waters. With a female capable of releasing eggs every four days, it’s possible for her to release more than 2 million eggs a year. Not to mention they can consume more than 70 local fish and crustaceans a day.
“Lionfish are voracious eaters,” says Tricia Ferguson, assistant resort manager of The Cove Eleuthera and co-author of The Lionfish Cookbook: The Caribbean’s New Delicacy, the first recipe book dedicated to preparing this fish. “They consume all the native baby fish and sea organisms. If we don’t get a handle on the lionfish population, I believe native species have the potential to become endangered or extinct. Changes in the ecosystem are never a good thing due to invasive species.”
While it may be nearly impossible to eradicate them from their non-native land, it is possible to significantly reduce its densities. “It is important to capture the lionfish because they are an invasive species and have no known predators,” says Ferguson. So, if you can’t beat them, eat them.
Photo courtesy of Aubrie Gerber
After publishing The Lionfish Cookbook, Ferguson—an Eleuthera local for 16 years—started chartering lionfish expeditions for guests at The Cove Eleuthera, a boutique luxury resort located on the northern tip of the island. “We want to educate people on the lionfish epidemic and let them have fun at the same time,” she explains. To erase the stigma associated with eating venomous predators, Ferguson and local guides at The Cove Eleuthera teach guests how to hunt for these creatures during half and full-day expeditions. With snorkels strapped on, guests, along with seasoned hunters, spear and net for lionfish—the most efficient ways to capture. Guests are encouraged to “eat the enemy” when they bring the lionfish back to the resort. Chefs can prepare the fish in a variety of ways for lunch or dinner, such as coconut panko lionfish with a Thai dipping sauce or ceviche.
Photo courtesy of REEF
Although lionfish are venomous, it doesn’t mean they’re lethal to eat. Once the spines are properly removed, the fish is ready to be eaten. The mild, white meat has a buttery texture like grouper and snapper. If you’re too shy to capture one yourself, the REEF has curated a list of more than 50 restaurants who regularly serve this delicacy on their menu.
Finding Nemo’s slogan “Fish are friends, not food” does not apply in this case.
(Aubrie experienced a lionfish expedition while on a press trip to The Cove Eleuthera.)
Aubrie is a South Florida-based freelance food and destination writer with an appetite for adventure. When she isn’t writing about a destination or the latest food trend, you’ll find her shooting photos for restaurants and resorts”