Lionfish: empowering native craft and food entrepreneurs

Fadilah Ali is an ecologist with a specialty in invasive species biology, control and management. She has a Masters degree in Environmental Science with a focus on Biodiversity and Conservation and is currently completing her PhD in Ocean and Earth Sciences at the University of Southampton in England where she researched the lionfish invasion in the Southern Caribbean

As a means to raise the landed value of lionfish and encourage their removal, craft makers are utilising lionfish spines, rays and tails. These materials currently being used for jewellery are typically discarded but have been found to increase the landed value of lionfish by 30 to 60% in some cases. Lionfish spines, rays and tails have been transformed into elegant earrings, necklaces, bracelets and even cufflinks and rings. In addition to encouraging lionfish removal, use of the spines and rays for jewellery can create income for local economies whilst also empowering local people. For example in Belize, lionfish jewellery have empowered groups of local women; all sales from their jewellery is returned to the local community to fund further projects which can benefit others. Utilising lionfish for jewellery is popular in Belize and has recently been introduced to the Bahamas, Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines. Lionfish jewellery in addition to being a fashionable and a trendy means of engaging in conservation type activities also helps to raise awareness of the lionfish invasion.

Lionfish accessories, photo by Fadilah Ali

Lionfish have been promoted as a food fish throughout the invaded region to encourage their removal. Within their native range, they are considered to be a food fish and in other cultures, members of the Scorpionfish family are viewed as delicacies. Compared to other native species within the invaded range, lionfish have lower levels of saturated fatty acids but a higher n-3 fatty acid content. Their white meat is firm and possesses a mild flavour, making it a perfect foundation for a variety of lionfish recipes. Furthermore, markets have been created for all sizes of lionfish to avoid size selection during removals (i.e. leaving lionfish behind so they can get become larger). Smaller sized lionfish are simply coated in breadcrumbs or cassava flour and deep-fried whole or their meat used for lionfish sausages or on lionfish pizza. Larger sized lionfish can also be served whole or be fileted with the leftover head and backbone then being used as a stock for soup and sauces whilst the spines are often baked and then used as toothpicks. Promoting lionfish as a food fish not only encourages their removal but this subsequently has ecological benefits. By focusing consumption on an invasive species, markets based on more exploited species such as snapper, grouper or lobster can be diverted. The novelty of lionfish as a food fish can not only stimulate public interest and curiosity, but it can also help to raise awareness whilst also contributing to local economies.
Fried whole lionfish, photo courtesy Lionfish University

Lionfish sushi, photo courtesy E Sushi shop, Aruba

The red lionfish (Pterois volitans) has been established within the wider Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico regions as well as North, South and Central America. Native to the Indo-Pacific region, lionfish flourish within this invaded range, as they are free from natural enemies and the warm temperatures and abundance of prey times allow them to attain greater sizes and densities as compared to their native range. Since their introduction more than two decades ago, many management strategies have been enacted with varying levels of success leading to the general consensus that complete eradication of lionfish is impossible but controlled management has proven successful at reducing lionfish densities. Targeted removals by divers have been recognized as the most effective means for control but due to their increasing densities at depths exceeding diver limits, trapping has been investigated as an additional means of removal. In order to encourage removal, commodification of lionfish has been performed throughout the invaded region mostly through encouraging lionfish as a food fish, but also through the use of lionfish jewellery.

Since it is unlikely that lionfish will ever be completely eradicated, finding multiple means to encourage their removal whilst also raising awareness about the problem will be the best means for the future. When ordering fish at a restaurant within the Caribbean, ask for lionfish! This demand will then cause local restaurants to ask their fishermen to supply them which then encourages removal! If you happen to see lionfish, please inform the Department of Marine Resources and Fisheries in Tobago at 639-4446; 639-4354 or dial 211 for the Contact Centre. If spotted in Trinidad, then contact the Institute of Marine Affairs at 634-4291/4, Ext 2406.

Preparing lionfish spines for use in fashion accessories, photo by Fadilah Ali


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