Lionfish: Cayman Islands allow hunting to protect marine environment: Part 1

Posted on March 11th 2014
Lionfish are considered an invasive species in the Caribbean and the Cayman Islands has taken to hunting them in an attempt to protect its rich marine environment. Here's what they are doing to tackle the invasion.
DO you fancy a citrus tinged lionfish ceviche? Or what about lionfish Escabeche, Cayman-style, with roasted tomato, pickled vegetables, avocado, scallion, and cilantro?
 
The menu may sound mouth-watering – until you realise the main ingredient of the surprise delicacy is a poisonous predator of the seas whose very presence threatens the underwater paradise in the Caribbean.
 
Yet, in the Cayman Islands, the culinary capital of the West Indies, this agent of disaster is being devoured by adventurous diners as part of a grassroots move which has brought together scuba divers, conservationists and restaurateurs to protect the fragile coral reef system which rings the British Overseas Territory.
 
Armed with beautiful but deadly barbs and a striking red and white patterning, lionfish are a dramatic sight for divers visiting the Caymans. Only they do not belong in the islands’ tropical blue waters.
 
With no natural predators and an ability to reproduce rapidly, the environmental invader threatens to overrun coral reefs, damaging ecologically important and commercially viable fish stocks vital to the tourism and fishing industries.
 
Faced with the “most damaging introduction that our reefs have ever seen,” environmental officials normally given to protecting marine life are encouraging their slaughter by arming suitably qualified divers with spears and orders to kill on-sight.
 
The do-it-yourself cull is slowly turning the tables on the lionfish invasion. A decision by some of the island’s most fancied restaurants and a major supermarket chain to put lionfish on the menu has given it further impetus.
 
“Lionfish has a similar taste and texture to sole. It’s mild, slightly buttery, and slightly sweet in flavour. 
 
"Convincing customers to try lionfish was a bit difficult to achieve at first. It is now one of my top sellers, so much so that people ask for it, even if it's not printed on the menu. It practically sells itself."
 
Top image of lionfish dish: credit Pascal Pernix, Camana Bay

Read Part 2 tomorrow.

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