It goes by many names: zebrafish, firefish, turkeyfish, red lionfish, butterfly cod, peacock lionfish, scorpion volitans, and devil firefish, just to name a few, but a rose by any other name is still a rose, and this son-of-a-B has invaded the Caribbean, much of the Gulf of Mexico, and the Eastern United States waters as far north as North Carolina. The natural home and habitat of the lionfish is the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, but it is believed that it has been introduced to our Atlantic waters by the intentional release into the wild by aquarium owners, and also there is at least one documented accidental release due to a damaged home during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Scientists report that genetic evidence points to multiple introductions. Here in the Atlantic Ocean, there are no natural predators of the lionfish, although if you have one on your spear, certainly the Caribbean Reef Shark is not averse to stealing a free meal, as Mike can attest (see Blackbeard’s Scuba Adventure Blog – December 10, 2013 for the video: http://adventuresportsnewmarket.weebly.com/adventure-sports-blog.html - the next blog down).
They're so pretty, what's the problem?
1. First, they are decorated with 13 beautiful but venomous spines. Venomous glands are located in the grooves of the spines, and when they pierce flesh (hopefully not yours or mine), venom is released into the wound. A sting from the spine of a lionfish is reported to cause acute pain, sweating, respiratory distress, and in extreme cases, paralysis. Some divers may experience an allergic reaction. How a person may react is dependent on how much venom was introduced into the wound, the location of the wound, and on the general health and immune system of the person stung.
Treatment if stung: Remove any spines present with tweezers, trying not to squeeze and inject further venom into the wound. Rinse with fresh warm water. The venom from a lionfish contains protein, a neuromuscular toxin, and a neurotransmitter. Heat breaks down that protein and relieves pain. Immerse the affected area in warm water (be careful the water is not too hot - you do not wish to add "scalded skin" to the list of injuries). Seek medical attention, and keep an eye on your patient, watching for signs of allergic reaction (circulation and breathing are ok).
2. Second, they are ambush predators that corner their prey, and often consume them whole. They commonly prey on young snappers, grouper and shrimp, simultaneously starving out the competition for food, and depleting the population of many species of fish. It is unknown what the repercussions may be in the future for this kind of invasion, but clearly the natural balance of the food chain in the Atlantic Ocean is being radically shifted. The stomach of a lionfish can expand to 30 times its normal size, and with its voracious appetite, you can imagine that our Atlantic fish are disappearing fast!
What’s the good news?
They are good to eat! There is venom in their spines, but they are NOT poisonous to eat! They are in fact, buttery and delicious! Many places in the Florida Keys will cook your lionfish for you in a variety of ways. Here is a recipe to try (so good), should you be diving with someone like Mike, for instance (provided he can keep the sharks away from his catch):
with Lemon Dill Sauce
The juice of half a lemon
½ cup Plain Greek yogurt (or substitute sour cream)
2 TBSP Chopped fresh dill
2 TBSP Chopped fresh chives
½ TSP Salt
2 minced cloves of garlic
6-8 Lionfish fillets
2 TBSP Creole seasoning
3 TBSP Butter
Sauce: In a bowl, whisk all sauce ingredients together.
Fillets: Sprinkle the creole seasoning onto both sides of the lionfish fillets. Heat the butter in a skillet, and when hot, pan fry the fillets 2-3 minutes on each side.
Serve: Spoon Lemon-Dill sauce over each fillet to serve (optional: garnish with fresh parsley or dill).
If you have any recipes to add, please email them to: firstname.lastname@example.org