Have you ever served lionfish? If not, you could be missing out.
Seven of the 35 hotels surveyed by sustainable tourism charity the Travel Foundation
are already serving it, and chefs have been calling it a tasty fish that is extremely versatile and good to cook with.
As you may know, lionfish are an invasive species, originating from the Indo-Pacific region but introduced to the Caribbean by humans. Saint Lucia is one of the last islands to be invaded by lionfish – with the first sightings in 2011. Since then, populations have exploded, and the species has been eating the young of other fish, reducing native reef fish numbers by up to 80% in some areas of the Caribbean. It represents a major threat to Saint Lucia’s coral reefs, which are so crucial for tourism.
Research has shown that the best way to control this species is to encourage its consumption, and the tourist industry can play its part – for international visitors lionfish is a local delicacy, a part of the unique experience of the island. Encouraging tourists to eat the fish will not only help coral reefs to recover, but also support the livelihoods of local fishers.
Many local fishers already catch lionfish, but because there is not a steady demand, the catch is not always sold on. Interestingly, there have been fewer lionfish spotted on the reefs recently, which would seem to indicate that numbers were reducing. But further research showed that they have simply got wise to the danger of being speared by divers and retreated to deeper waters. Dive to 100 feet or so and there are countless lionfish to be seen – and they are much bigger specimens, great for serving up in the kitchen.
Lionfish have venomous spines, but once these are snipped off with scissors, the fish is perfectly safe to cook with. Several hotels are serving lionfish once or twice a week, and it makes for a great ‘catch of the day’. The tourists interviewed by the Travel Foundation were very positive about the fish, and of course it gives them the chance to be part of the solution, to do something during their holiday that helps conserve the island’s natural beauty.
As part of the Travel Foundation’s ‘Lionfish on the Menu’ project, in partnership with the Department of Fisheries
and CLEAR Caribbean
, 60 fishers have been trained to more effectively catch and process the species. Equipment such as filleting knives and puncture-proof gloves, as well as aprons and scissors, has been provided to enable people to catch more lionfish and provide them in the quantities needed by hotels.
Hotels and restaurants can play their part by ordering the fish, ensuring they offer a price comparable to other catches, and starting to serve it to customers. The Travel Foundation can provide support and materials to help hotels communicate the benefits of eating lionfish to tourists.