Lionfish are stunning creatures. They're also highly invasive and destructive to underwater habitats. Fortunately, they're pretty darn delicious.
You'd be hard pressed to find a more beautiful or exotic creature than the lionfish. You'd also be just as hard-pressed to find a more destructive invasive species.
The fish, native to the Indian and South Pacific Oceans, is wreaking havoc in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida. Florida reefs are suffering heavy damage from the dangerous multi-spined fish.
The good news? Lionfish are also delicious, and culling them for the seafood market may be one answer to keeping their population under control.
Whole Foods markets in Florida recently announced that they will be offering lionfish for sale in their seafood aisle. If this catches on, it could be great news in the battle to control the animal and provide people with another food option.
The fish are also popular menu items in certain restaurants. Licensed divers can make a pretty penny by harvesting the dangerous fish and selling directly to participating restaurants.
"Really, you can go out on a good day, get three or four hundred pounds of fish, and make a few thousand dollars," says Alex Fogg, a lionfish researcher and commercial harvester. "It's a pretty awesome process."
Female lionfish can produce upwards of two million eggs a year. So, they reproduce quickly and have virtually no natural predators.
Commercial lionfish hunter Grayson Shepard indicated that the species is so prevalent that it's an easy matter to collect them. "That particular dive, at 120 feet, I think we had about 17-18 minutes of bottom time," he recalls of one specific dive, "In that time frame, I was able to kill around 140-150 lionfish."
Harvesting is made easy by the fish's tendency to cluster at underwater structure.
Divers must be careful, however, as the fish are highly venomous. According to National Geographic, if you get 'stung' by one of their toxic spines it "won't kill you, but you'll wish you were dead".
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