Whole Foods Market Now Sells Invasive Lionfish

If you're looking for something different to throw on the grill this Memorial Day weekend, why not consider some lionfish?

Though beautiful, this fish is an invasive species that is both aggressive to native sea life and prolific in its rate of reproduction, with females capable of laying up to 30,000 eggs every four days.

Lionfish, native to the South Pacific and Indian ocean, was first seen in our waters in 1985. With its mane of venomous spines, it's now a top-level predator in the Atlantic and Caribbean, capable of causing damage to our natural coral reef ecosystems.  

There is an upside to this dangerous sea creature: it's delicious with meat that's firm, white, and buttery. IN fact, unlike some fish which are considered endangered, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission encourages fishermen to catch as many lionfish as they can:
The FWC encourages divers, anglers and commercial harvesters to safely remove lionfish they encounter in order to help control the numbers of these invasive fish. Removing lionfish can help Florida's native marine species and habitats. Local control efforts have proven to be effective. Lionfish can be speared, caught in hand-held nets or caught on hook and line. There is no recreational or commercial harvest bag limit for lionfish.
Of course, there are those pesky venomous spines to look out for, which makes capturing lionfish best handled by experienced fishermen. Luckily, Whole Foods Market is now offering lionfish, starting today.

David Ventura, Florida regional seafood coordinator for Whole Foods thinks that making lionfish available in stores is a win-win both for consumers who want to eat sustainable seafood and for our local marine environment. “In an effort to educate the public on the importance of lionfish removal, promotions such as this will encourage continued involvement in proactively and successfully removing lionfish from coastal waters."  

Edward Steadley, Whole Foods Market associate seafood coordinator, says the lionfish are sourced from divers from the Florida Keys to Pensacola and Destin, who deep dive down 120 to 130 feet to spear the fish. Steadley calls the dives, "pretty intense". "These divers sometimes dive up to six times a day. It's not your ordinary, everyday, diving." 

Once received at the market, Whole Foods employees will remove the venomous spines before displaying the critters. Once the spines are removed and the fish are placed on ice, the fish cannot release any venom from its glands, and the fish is perfectly safe for consumption. Whole lionfish is priced at $9.99 per pound, with an average lionfish weighing in under two pounds. From today through Tuesday, May 31, the fish is on special for $8.99 per pound. The fish is offered whole, but Steadley says that Whole Foods will gladly filet or butterfly the fish at no charge — just ask. 

Once at home, lionfish can be prepared any way you would prepare grouper or snapper. Mainstream recipe sites like Cooking Channel offer various recipes for lionfish

Steadley likes to use lionfish in ceviche. "It's a mild, flaky fish and hands down, it makes the best ceviche you will ever put in your mouth." 

Steadley also says the fish are great for your holiday cookout. Just season lionfish filets with some black pepper, salt, and olive oil, wrap in a foil pocket, and toss onto your Memorial Day grill for six to eight minutes. Then dig into your meal with a clear conscience that your meal choice might actually help save Florida's ecosystem.
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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss