Florida helps ocean ecosystem by cooking up a damaging invasive fish

World Today

Florida helps ocean ecosystem by cooking up a damaging invasive fish

The U.S. state of Florida has found a tasty way to control a slippery problem.

Chefs are joining scientists, and state officials, in the battle against one of its many damaging invasive species.

CGTN’s Steve Mort reports.

Florida helps ocean ecosystem by cooking up a damaging invasive fish

The U.S. state of Florida has found a tasty way to control a slippery problem. Chefs are joining scientists, and state officials, in the battle against one of its many damaging invasive species. CGTN's Steve Mort reports.

Restaurant owner and Chef Hari Pulapaka cooks a dish made with lionfish.

“We want to eat these things, because they’re devastating our native species,” Pulapaka said.

Lionfish pray on around 50 other species, and damage fragile coral reefs. They have venomous spines so must to be prepared with care. But Pulapaka is one of numerous chefs who see a role for themselves in controlling the species.

“Lionfish, not having any natural predators, eats whatever it wants. And, like humans, given the chance it’s going to eat delicious stuff itself, and so it tastes delicious in the process,” Pulapaka said.

Florida wildlife officials have declared open season on lionfish – even producing videos explaining how to catch them. The U.S. Geological Survey said that releases from pet aquariums could be a possibility for their introduction to U.S. waters where they became established about 15 years ago. Lionfish numbers have since exploded, spreading throughout much of Caribbean in just five years.

As the hospitality industry does its part to tackle Florida’s lionfish problem, researchers here at Nova Southeastern University are looking into the issue too. But they said their findings so far are not encouraging.

They’ve found the species can thrive in an astonishing range of environments, from oceans to fresh water. This experiment appears to show lionfish can even survive with relatively little oxygen.

“This has very real implications. If they are able to tolerate these hypoxic conditions they could very well be found throughout estuaries all along the Atlantic coast,” Aaron Hasenei, a Graduate student at Nova Southeastern University said.

That adaptability is hindering efforts to halt their spread. Lionfish often live in difficult to reach habitats and have to be caught by divers with spears, instead of traditional nets. The U.S. government recently unveiled designs for lionfish traps to help get around the problem.

“We’ll never get rid of lionfish but if we can control that population to minimize that impact on the native species and habitats – I think that’s the ultimate goal,” David Kerstetter, an assistant professor at Nova Southeastern University said.

Meanwhile, Chef Pulapaka said the relatively small amount of meat on each fish keeps the price high. But he predicts demand will increase as American palates grow accustomed to these spiky interlopers.