ST JOHN’S, Antigua – A player in the local dive industry has begun promoting the idea of eating the troublesome lionfish in a bid to control its fast growing population.
“We should encourage the community to eat them because they taste really good,” said Shawn Clarke, who runs a recreation dive business in English Harbour.
According to him and other individuals who make their earnings from marine resources, the lionfish population has drastically increased since being first spotted here early last year.
Clarke has planned his first BBQ for this weekend, where he expects to prepare the fish for the public to taste and is confident that residents will buy in to the new dish.
He thinks the fish’s venomous nature is what has kept it from most dinner plates, but is now encouraging local fishermen to capture the fish for sale to the public.
“They are free of fish poisoning when prepared. Once you have people hunting and wanting to eat them we don’t have to worry about it so much because we want to get rid of them.
“If fishermen go out there and they know people are buying them they will catch them. If you don’t catch them in the next 20 years, all there will be is lionfish,” Clarke added.
The lionfish was first spotted in Falmouth Harbour in February of 2011, and shortly after made its way to the sister island of Barbuda.
Since that time, Clarke said little has been done by fisheries officials to bring the harmful species under control.
“They haven’t responded in any way. It’s just the dive centres alone making an effort. The fisheries division has done nothing,” he said.
The lionfish, which is native to the Pacific Ocean, is believed to have entered Atlantic and Caribbean waters during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 when a Florida aquarium broke.
The lionfish, which has few natural predators in the region, rapidly consumes small fish on coral reefs and can produce up to 30,000 eggs every four days.
The species is famous for its extremely long and separated spines, and has a generally striped appearance. Colouration can be red, green, navy, brown, orange, yellow, black, maroon, or white.