What a great quote… I found it while researching the idea of using invasive species as food for humans. I had seen a segment on ABC’s Shark Tank where two entrepreneurs were pitching their idea of selling Lionfish as seafood to restaurants. (Click on the picture to watch the segment at 14:36)
The pitch wasn’t so great, but I was intrigued by both the idea and the reaction from the investors, who had clearly never heard of the Lionfish. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Lionfish was “accidentally introduced to the eastern Seaboard and Caribbean in the 1990s” – most likely by people discarding their aquarium Lionfish into the water – and quickly took hold. This animation from the Reef Environmental Education Foundation shows the progression of the Lionfish population growth.
The Lionfish has no known predators, eats ecologically important species and is considered a serious threat to the marine ecosystem in the Atlantic and the coral reefs of the Caribbean.
The idea to eat Lionfish as a way of controlling the population has been around since 2009, this paper details taste tests and nutrition values for the fish (it’s very good for you.) What I found so interesting about the reaction from the investors on “Shark Tank” was their reluctance to imagine establishing a market for the fish. According to IBIS World research, the seafood industry brings in $2b a year in revenue. I don’t think establishing a market for a new, exotic kind of fish would be that difficult. One of them also questioned whether people would be willing to “choose their dinner based on ecological factors.” Now, maybe it’s where I live or the people I hang around with, but I see plenty of people choosing their dinners based on ecological factors. Isn’t that the basis for farmers markets and eating locally? If history is any indicator, then the demand for seafood cannot be underestimated. Overfished species like the Atlantic Cod, Swordfish, Chilean Seabass (also known as the Patagonian toothfish) are a testament to that. In fact, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has a whole list of species that are on the brink thanks to industrial fishing to satisfy a growing market demand for fish. The Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program offers this handy guide to help us figure out which ones to eat and which ones to avoid.
Now, back to that quote. It comes from Jackson Landers in a Popular Mechanics story about eating Lionfish. Landers writes a blog called “The Locavore Hunter” and wrote a book about hunting and eating invasive species called, “Eating Aliens.” Landers argues that the only way to deal with invasive species is to eradicate them. He also referenced this post from The Nature Conservancy’s Matt Miller who discussed the debate among conservationists about the potential repercussions of creating a market for invasive species. Miller says the benefits outweigh the risks and advocates for recognizing these species as a “sustainable and abundant food source.”
Considering humanity’s record in the past, I believe we could kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. By turning to invasive species as sources of food, we can clean up at least part of the mess we’ve made, while potentially helping other ocean species recover. I’m all for giving it a try, maybe at one of these fine, and ecologically responsible, dining establishments.