Controlling venomous lionfish one dish at a time

A single female lionfish can lay up to two million eggs in one year. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)

WASHINGTON — A new invasive and venomous fish species has been moving north from Caribbean waters in recent years, and is starting to gain in numbers locally.

Laura Bankey, director of conservation at the National Aquarium, says that because the fish are moving into a new area, the natural “checks and balances don’t exist and they’re allowed to kind of just run amok and they’re taking over ecosystems.”

The species, called lionfish, has a red- and white-striped body with needle-like fins. Because they don’t travel in schools, they’re harder to catch. And because they’re harder to catch, they’re expensive menu items — which is one of the “checks” used to help regulate invasive populations.

The more people eat them, the more they’re fished, and the more the population is kept under control, Bankey says.

“I’m going to be honest with you — sometimes making the right ecological decision is more expensive,” Bankey says.

The aquarium has partnered with Bluefields Bay Villas in Jamaica to educate communities on how to cook and eat lionfish.

“It’s like grouper; it’s very light. You can do anything with it,” says Carmen Hibbert, a chef at the resort.

One factor Hibbert and Bankey will address is the species’ venomous spines.

“They have 18 venomous spines,” Hibbert says. “So once you remove those spines, it’s okay.”

Hibbert says a single female lionfish can lay up to two million eggs in one year.

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