Throughout the Caribbean, an infestation and invasion have devastated the coral reef. After an accidental release of lionfish decades ago, these mesmerizing but lethal invaders have spread throughout the entire region. Island after island has seen the coral reef system changed by this species, which is why it’s so important for you to do your part to save the reef around Roatan and eat more lionfish.
Endemic to the Pacific, lionfish are visually stunning fish, with what appears to be a mane of flowing tendrils – thus it was named after a lion. However, don’t get too close, as these little guys are venomous! (An important note: there is a difference between poisonous and venomous. Lionfish are venomous, which means their venom can enter your bloodstream through an injection. They are not poisonous, so they are perfectly safe to eat.)
Lionfish have venomous spines along their backs (dorsal fin spines), and at two spots on their bellies (pectoral and anal fin spines). These are all filled with venom that will burn through you painfully. If you are not familiar with lionfish, you should not try to spear or fillet them yourself.
Lionfish are incredibly detrimental to the health of coral reefs for multiple reasons:
1. In their natural environment, lionfish procreate once per year. Lionfish procreate more frequently in the Caribbean due to the warm temperatures year-round. This results in overpopulation.
2. Lionfish have no natural predators in the Caribbean, yet their eating habits allowed them to quickly adapt to eating fish, invertebrates, and crustaceans here. They can consume creatures up to half their own body size. They are not naturally hunted in the Caribbean, but they are excellent hunters.
3. Lionfish population densities outside their native waters have been found to be up to 15 times higher. This overpopulation isn’t naturally ebbing any time soon.
So now that you know how invasive this species of fish is, wouldn’t you also like to know how delicious it is? You don’t have to feel badly about eating lionfish every day of the week here in Roatan – you’re just doing your part to protect the reef! Some popular lionfish dish options include ceviche, fish tacos, and of course your regular fried, grilled, or sautéed fish. Cook them up however you’d like, or take advantage of the many local restaurants serving lionfish on their menus!
If you’re interested in doing more than just eating these invasive and destructive predators, you can also become certified to spearfish them. The Roatan Marine Park offers certification classes for any snorkeler or diver interested in obtaining a lionfish spearfishing license. (Please note: No other spearfishing is allowed inside the marine park protected area.) The course entails an informational session followed by practice in the water spearing coconuts to ensure accuracy and control. Once certified, you can use your Hawaiian sling spear – which is included in the certification cost – to hunt these invasive predators. For more information on the lionfish invasion and how you can help, visit the Roatan Marine Park website at www.roatanmarinepark.com.