The infamous Lionfish is fairly new not only to Belizean waters, but also to the menu at many Belizean restaurants. Originating in the warm waters of the indo pacific, Lionfish are a non-native species that was only recently introduced into the Caribbean. Though the flamboyant Lionfish sports an impressive array of venomous spines, they are not poisonous, and the flesh is good to eat!
Lionfish are believed to have been accidentally introduced into the Caribbean Sea in the 90s. They were first spotted off the coast of Belize in 2008. Since then they have grown considerably in population and are now endangering the health of the Belize Barrier Reef. The lionfish are indiscriminate feeders and will eat almost anything. They spawn rapidly and are resistant to disease, plus they have no native predators. All this combined is a recipe for disaster when it comes to the natural balancing of the Belize coastal ecosystem.
With no underwater predators, the lionfish reigns supreme. This however is not good news for local fishing communities that depend of the health of the reef for their livelihood. It further affects Belize as a whole in that because growing lionfish populations can reduce populations of commercially viable fish like grouper and snapper. Further, degradation of the reef can have a negative impact on the Belize tourism market, which is a major industry in this small country.
So what can be done? One of the best ways to manage lionfish populations is to hunt and eat them.
The meat is highly nutritious, containing high levels of Omega 3 fatty acids and low levels of Omega 6 fatty acids, meaning more of what we need, and less of what we don’t need. After being fileted, The fins make for great sea-inspired jewelry!
International NGO Blue Ventures is working in Belize to help manage the local lionfish populations. Along with research and documentation, Blue Ventures works to inform and educate Belizeans about the impending cost and potential benefits provided by this new species.
Recently, Blue Ventures partnered with a well known Belize City restaurant, Nerie’s, to host a Lionfish dinner which boasted a three course meal, all of Lionfish dishes. The meal was expertly prepared by Nerie’s kitchen staff and consisted of Lionfish Ceviche and Lionfish Sere followed by a tasty Coconut Curried Lionfish entrée.
During the event, the Blue Ventures team had the chance to enlighten the crowd by sharing their story. Local artisan jewelry makers Raj Expressions and Be Lioness setup vendor tables to display their crafty lionfish wares. Local community leader Dara spoke about his feeding program for which he offers lionfish filet among other things to provide meals for children in Belize City. The night ended on a high note with the raffling of a handful of fun lionfish related prizes.