The lionfish is a ferocious ocean carnivore with a flamboyant “mane” of venomous spines. This exotic maroon-and-white creature, native to the Indo-Pacific, made its way west through the aquarium trade. During recent years, however, wild lionfish became established in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic. Releases of lionfish and their eggs from aquariums have been blamed for this invasion.
While the long-term impact of the lionfish is unknown, fisheries experts are worried. The lionfish, from the Pterois genus of venomous marine fish, reproduces rapidly and has few natural enemies outside of the Indo-Pacific to keep its population in check. Meanwhile, lionfish are devouring small crustaceans and the young of commercial fish species like snapper and grouper, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
“Some areas where lionfish have taken over reefs show a marked decrease in bio-diversity,” says Tracy Yandle, an associate professor in Emory’s Department of Environmental Sciences. Yandle studies issues around the regulation of the fishing industry and the governance of natural resources.
Luckily, the invasive lionfish is not just ecologically “evil.” It is also tasty. Many describe lionfish meat as a mildly flavored, nicely textured white fish, similar to snapper.