Lionfish are Dangerous and Delicious: Proper Preparation is Essential

    Lionfish Pterois Mombasae In A Moscow Zoo Aquarium
    They are tasty and buttery fillets. But, they can only be eaten if prepared properly, for the toxins in the dorsal fins must be removed. ©

    Call these poisonous fish what you may. Either called lionfish, pterois, or zebrafish, these intriguingly beautiful invasive fish from the Indo-Pacific region are compromising the ecosystem of the world’s greatest reefs, especially the coast of Florida and the Caribbean. Lionfish populations remain high for the following reasons: they have little to no natural predators, they are extremely prolific and frequently lay up to 15,000 eggs at a time during their average fifteen year lifespans[1], and they can live in depths ranging from shallow reefs at 15 meters (to deep crevasses and insular shelves up tp 304 meters deep[2]. So, how are they compromising the ecosystem? Lionfish have voracious appetites, eating primarily baby reef fish.

    To combat the uncontrollable growth of the invasive lionfish, “lionfish derbies” are organized for those who want to competitively hunt with spearfishing equipment. Recreational killing is also promoted, and I’ve shot three myself in the Bahamas! But what can you do with these fish since other fish don’t recognize the lionfish as food? Eat ‘em.

    Contributor Laila Carter, food science major at Kansas State University

    They are tasty and buttery fillets. But, they can only be eaten if prepared properly, for the toxins in the dorsal fins must be removed. Additionally, the FDA warns consumers of lionfish about Ciguatera Fish Poisoning (CFP) in Table 3-2 of “Fish and Fishery Products Hazards and Controls Guidance[3]. According to the FDA’s website, CFP is caused by “consuming fish that have eaten toxic marine algae, directly or that have eaten other fish containing the toxins”[4]. The accumulation of toxic marine algae is attributed to organisms like Gambierdiscus toxicus, Coolia monotis, and Amphidinium carterae[5]

    Listed for CFP warnings are predatory fish like grouper and snapper. Bioaccumulation from eating contaminated food sources is primarily why fish higher up on food chains have higher concentrations of the components causing Ciguatera, ciguatoxin and maitotoxin.

    [1] Ruiz-Carus R., Matheson R.Jr., Roberts D.Jr., Whitfield P. (2006). “The western Pacific red lionfish, Pterois volitans (Scorpaenidae), in Florida: Evidence for reproduction and parasitism in the first exotic marine fish established in state waters”. Biological Conservation. 128 (3): 384–390. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2005.10.012

    [2] Gress E, Andradi-Brown DA, Woodall L, Schofield PJ, Stanley K, Rogers AD. 2017. Lionfish (Pterois spp.) invade the upper-bathyal zone in the western Atlantic. PeerJ5:e3683





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