A heartening tale of business and the environment
RED lionfish are pretty, but they are also greedy.
A single one of them, introduced into a coral reef where the species is not native, can reduce the number of other small fish by 80% in just a few weeks, according to Mark Hixon, a marine biologist at Oregon State University. To make matters worse, lion fish are top predators. Though their size would make them an easy mouthful for a shark or a grouper, their poisonous spines mean they are more or less invulnerable.
In the lionfish’s native waters, the western Pacific Ocean, the local ecosystem has adjusted to such predatory behaviour. In the Caribbean, though, the lionfish is a novelty—and a destructive one. Anything that damages the biodiversity of the reefs in diving resorts is bad for tourism, so in some countries, such as Mexico and Belize, people have tried introducing bounties payable to divers who catch lionfish. Sadly, there are too many lionfish about, and the bounties have proved too expensive to sustain. But there may be an answer: prove that the lionfish is not in fact a top predator after all, by getting people to eat it.
That is the method proposed by Sean Dimin, one of the owners of a firm called Sea to Table. Mr Dimin’s company works with fishermen who practise sustainable fisheries management, and helps them get their catches into the sort of high-class restaurants frequented by wealthy conservationists. Mr Dimin got his idea from the appearance in some resorts of “lionfish rodeos”, in which holidaymaking divers round the fish up, and which are usually followed by lionfish cook-ups on the beach. He learned from these that the fish, suitably de-spined, are delicious (they taste like snapper). That got him wondering if consumer demand might be a force powerful enough to halt even an invasive species as successful as the lionfish.