Let’s Hunt Lionfish!
Efforts Made by Puerto Rico Sea Grant to Combat This Invasive Species
Written in Spanish by: Cristina D. Olán Martínez, MA
Translated to English by: Wilmarie Cruz Franceschi, MA
Lionfish is infamous for its invasive presence in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico, and Puerto Rico is no exception. A species native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, lionfish pose serious threats to the local fish stocks’ health. Lionfish have no local predators to keep it in check, so it is crucially important for people to know that the lionfish is edible, and there are various ways to acquire and cook it.
Fishermen providing lionfish for the Zoo Night. Credit: Jannette Ramos García, Puerto Rico Sea Grant
Puerto Rico Sea Grant (PRSG) began a campaign in 2009 aimed at educating the public about this species, as well as promoting its capture, sale, and consumption. An article written by Dr. Michelle Schärer Umpierre for the Fuete y Verguilla magazine supplied the initial effort. Since then, the activities promoting lionfish capture and consumption have grown exponentially. Jannette Ramos García, current coordinator of said publication, has been instrumental in this campaign.
“As soon as the first lionfish sighting was reported in Puerto Real, I noticed the prevalent disinformation and, when I read the article about (lionfish), I saw I could become part of the effort, and make it part of the magazine’s agenda. [...] When I tasted just how delicious this fish was, I knew this was something the public ought to know,” Jannette recalls.
The educational and culinary activities promoting fishing for and eating lionfish have been diverse and attractive, and have benefited anglers, chefs, and cooking school students alike. Workshops demonstrate the negative impact the species has on local fish stocks and showcase lionfish as a welcome addition to their menus in addition.
Anglers participating of a workshop. Credit: Jannette Ramos García, Puerto Rico Sea Grant
Jannette adds, “These anglers include both commercial and sports fishing types. As soon as we began publishing that lionfish is edible and delicious, the sports fishing groups and the public started getting motivated. As far as commercial anglers go, an increasing number want to capture the fish. They’ve tried many methods to land the catch… The selling price is attractive, too… Anglers understand the relevance of targeting lionfish, due to the way it affects local stocks of commercially important species, which in turn affects their livelihoods.”
As part of a joint effort between PRSG and the Caribbean Fishery Management Council (CFMC), commercial anglers with valid licensing have received an incentive for lionfish capture: the equipment necessary to ensure a safe lionfish capture. Kits including a Hawaiian sling, mesh gloves and shears were presented to every angler who requested one, and several kits were distributed in the fishing communities visited during the campaign.
Likewise, PRSG has presented in activities, expos and projects coordinated by other entities, displaying the information to hundreds of people. Some of these activities included expos and demonstrations in communities and schools, the La Ruta del Pesca’o activity sponsored by the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, and the Lionfish Summit held in Florida. Culinary displays were a part of the Boricuá organization’s banquet and the EcoExploratorio’s launch activity. Furthering our educational and outreach activities, PRSG worked with Marine Sciences graduate student Chelsea Harms and the Marine Sciences Student Association to create the ¡A la caza del pez león! Festival. The activity also served as part of Harms’s thesis project.
Culinary school students cooked lionfish at Zoo Night. Credit: Jannette Ramos García, Puerto Rico Sea Grant
These activities have the support of educational material produced by PRSG’s Communications section. We have published videos in the Program’s YouTube channel, articles in Fuete y Verguilla, posters, and a Marine Fact Sheet. Educational activities and promotional material have also been prepared for schoolchildren.
PRSG continues to work towards fostering lionfish capture and consumption by planning educational, recreational and culinary activities in which people can learn more about this invasive species, its detrimental effect on our marine ecosystem, and the ways the fish population can be controlled. We encourage the public to keep enjoying lionfish: it is nutritious, delicious, and helps keep our fish stocks healthy.
For more information about lionfish, as well as some of the materials produced by PRSG, please view the following links:
Fuete y Verguilla Magazine; Vol. 3 Num. 2 May 2009, Vol.4 Num. 1 February 2010
Special Issue Dedicated to Lionfish Preparation
Marine Fact Sheet Detailing Lionfish’s Nutritional Values
How to Capture and Prepare Lionfish
Lionfish in the Restaurant
Recipes for Cooking Lionfish
Chef Giovanna Huyke
Chef René Ñeco