Lionfish are not supposed to be in the Western Atlantic and are considered an invasive species in local waters. The term “invasive species” means they have been unnaturally introduced to an environment where they are not normally found and exhibit characteristics that allow them to out-compete the native species and be more successful than they would be in their natural range.
Lionfish are relatively small, slow-moving fish but they are aggressive predators. Since local species do not see the lionfish as a threat, and lionfish have no known predators (they have venomous spines which humans need to avoid), the population is growing at an alarming rate and posing a serious threat to local species and ultimately to Bermuda’s coral reef system and our marine environment.
Fishing for lionfish is a natural solution to controlling Lionfish numbers. If fishermen shift their focus towards targeting lionfish this will take the pressure off the native species that help maintain the healthy reef. Simply put, humans need to become the predator of the lionfish. The annual “Eat ‘em to Beat ‘em,” lionfish tournament, put on the organization Groundswell, aims to cull lionfish by spearing them in large numbers and to show the general public how to safely handle these venomous fish and prepare them for consumption.
Lionfish is without a doubt the most eco-friendly fish one can consume since it is the only fish whose demise helps the marine environment. Luckily lionfish are also delicious. Their firm, white fillet looks like a cross between hogfish and grouper (rockfish). Once the venomous spines are removed with scissors, the fish can be handled safely and can be prepared in much in the same way as snapper, coney or turbot. In fact, lionfish can be used as a substitute in any recipe that calls for a white, flakey fillet.
Lionfish is increasingly recognised as a top choice by local chefs and is beginning to show up on local menus. Chris Malpas, executive chef for the Bank of Butterfield, pioneered the use of lionfish in traditional Bermuda recipes like fish chowder and lionfish cakes. Chef Malpas saw early on that incorporating this invasive species in local dishes would help dispel the myth that this was a strange and poisonous fish. Ryan Solien, chef de cusine at Victoria Grill, has also taken an interest in the lionfish and can be seen at the “Eat ‘em to Beat ‘em,” tournament preparing lionfish in a number of different ways. Chef Ryan believes the fish’s mild flavour allows the flesh to take well to different seasonings—and one doesn’t have to be a fish lover to enjoy it.
So the next time you are in the market for fish, whether at a restaurant or out fishing, look for lionfish and “eat ‘em to beat ‘em.”
If you would like to join the hunt, visit www.oceansupport.org to become a licensed culler or go to www.lionfish.bm to see a map showing where these fish have been found.
Ryan Solien, Chef de Cuisine, Victoria Grill
Yield: 8 portions
16 ox clean lionfish fillet cut into small dice
1 minced shallot
1/2 minced jelapeno
Juice of one lime
Juice of one orange
2 tbsp chopped mango
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Favourite chip or flatbread
Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Let stand for 5 to 15 minutes to cure the fish. Arrange nicely on a plate with your favourite chip or bread and enjoy!
Chris Malpas, CEC Executive Chef, Bank of Butterfield
Yield: 6-8 portions
3-4 whole lionfish (approx 3lbs)
10 cups water
1 tbsp salt
3 tbsp olive oil
3/4 lb onions, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
3.4 lb carrots, finely chopped
3 green peppers, finely chopped
1 tsp curry powder
1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
3 fish bouillon cubes
1 cup Goslings black rum
4 tbsp sherry peppers
2 cans crushed tomatoes (14 oz)
Salt and pepper to taste
Remove outer spines and fins with poultry shears; rinse and fillet fish. Reserve fillet meat and add fish racks to a pot, cover with water and add salt. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
Remove from the head and strain to separate the stock from the racks and reserve. Pick away from the racks any pockets of flesh meat; discard the racks.
Return the pot to the stoce and add olive oil. Saute the onions, garlic, peppers and carrots until tender, add spices and mix well. Add the reserved fish stock (see above) and any of the picked meat. Add tomatoes, rum and sherry peppers and fish fillets.
Cook over a low heat for 45 minutes to one hour. Break apart the fillets into small pieces if the cooking process hasn’t already achieved this. As with most soups and stews it will be better the following day; can be made in advance and frozen if desired.
Lemon Grass Lionfish
Yield: 8-10 portions
10, 30 cm lemongrass stems
2 kg lionfish fillets
1tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp olive oil
Salt and fresh black pepper to taste
Yield: 1 qt dipping sauce
1 qt Bermuda mayonnaise
1/4 cup siracha
2 tbsp fresh black pepper
1/8 cup fresh lemon juice
1/8 cup fresh lime juice
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp paprika
Trim lemon grass tops and cut off hard base from stem. Cut remaining sticks in half lengthwise, then widthwise. You will have 40 lemongrass skewers.
Remove any skin or bones from the lionfish; cut fish into 40 x 3 cm pieces.
Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and evenly coat lionfish. Using tip of a small knife cut a slit through the centre of each piece of fish; thread each piece on to lemongrass skewer. Cook, in batches, on high heat; grill until the fish is browned lightly and cooked as desired. Served the skewers hot with siracha aioli.
Yield: 10-12 tacos
12, 3-oz fillets, skin on and bone removed
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
12 corn tortillas
1 large tomato, diced
1 cup red onions, sliced
1/2 head red cabbage, slicecd
1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
Juice of one lime
Salt and pepper to taste
outdoor gas or charcoal grill until very hot, or put a grill pan over medium-high heat. Drizzle the lionfish fillets with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Grill skin side down for three minutes. Remove from the grill to platter; warm tortillas. Mix slaw ingredients in a bowl.
To assemble, later each corn tortilla with a dollop of sour cream. Serve with lime wedges and a smile!
Ocean Support Foundation
The Ocean Support Foundation is dedicated to protecting Bermuda’s reefs and ocean. The Foundation has initiated and supports a number of island projects utilizing its technical dive teams expertise and volunteers. The Foundation’s Primary Focus is to reduce the lionfish population in Bermuda’s waters to a level that stops the devastating effects already being seen in the Caribbean and elsewhere in the Western Atlantic. https://www.oceansupport.org
The Bermuda Lionfish Culling Program
The Bermuda Lionfish Culling Program provides an opportunity for all Bermuda residents over the age of 16 to receive a permit to hunt lionfish.
The Lionfish Culling Program is managed by Corey Eddy, a PhD candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth and a Fellow through the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Programme. Eddy works in collaboration with the Ocean SUpport Foundation, the Bermuda Zoological Society, the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, and the Bermuda Government Departments of Environmental Protection and Conservation Services, to study the ecological impact of the invasive lionfish upon Bermuda’s coral reef system.
Bermuda Lionfish Taskforce
The Bermuda Lionfish Taskforce, with fellow collaborators from the Ocean Support Foundation, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, the Bermuda Zoological Society, BIOS, and the Bermuda Departments of Conservation Services and Environmental Protection. The Lionfish Taskforce was formed in 2012 to coordinate local efforts to control the population of invasive lionfish and limit the impacts of their spread on Bermuda’s ecology and economics.
In early 2013, members of the Lionfish Taskforce applied for and received a $265,000 grant from the Darwin Plus: Overseas Territories Environment and Climate Fund under DEFRA. Research conducted under the grant will be used to inform the development of a comprehensive Lionfish Control Plan for Bermuda, which will implement long-term control strategies for the invasive population and the development of a lionfish-specif trap for commercial fishers.
Founded by Matthew Strong and Selange Gitschner, Groundswell’s purpose is to create campaigns that empower the general public to positively influence, support and take part in solutions to environmental issues. Through a large volunteer base and membership, Groundswell aims to aid charities, the scientific community and stakeholders to raise awareness of important environmental issues and generate community action through events, education, advocacy and cultural movements.
Since 2011, Groundswell has hosted The Groundswell Lionfish Tournament at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS).
Nor just a fishing event, the tournament, whose tag like is “Eat ’em To Beat ’em” is a festive family event meant to educate adults and kids about the lionfish problem, and includes cooking, handling and tasting of lionfish. www.reefspect.com