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What do you do with the invasive lionfish? Cook them, hopefully.

Antennata Lionfish, picture taken in Zoo Schönbrunn, Vienna, Austria
Antennata Lionfish, picture taken in Zoo Schönbrunn, Vienna, Austria
Christian Mehlführer/Creative Commons

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Dangerous species like alligators and crocodiles haunt Florida’s waters, and in recent years, another water-dweller has joined their ranks. Marine biologist Pat Krug told Madeleine Brand on Monday that the poisonous lionfish has taken over much of the Caribbean, and Florida is desperate for ways to stunt the invasive species’ population growth.

The lionfish often makes an appearance in personal aquariums, coveted for its eye-catching stripes that eventually fan out like a lion’s mane. Krug said the fish’s invasion may have begun in the early ‘90s, when a hurricane took out an aquarium in a sea-front hotel lobby. A few lionfish survived and took hold in the ocean. Since then, the species’ population has sky-rocketed in the Caribbean.

Krug said that during his diving trips in the Bahamas in 2003, 2004 and 2007, he didn’t spot a single one. But last year, the noxious swimmers were everywhere. The fish spawns hundreds of thousands of eggs at a time and has few natural predators due to its venomous fin rays. The feather-like protrusions that line the fish’s body all have a hollow barb filled with venom.

“Once they’re of a reasonable size they’re poisonous, so nothing naturally recognizes them as food, and anything that tries them out is in for a rude awakening,” he said.

Krug recalled a dive in South Africa 15 years ago, where he worked up the courage to ask the local dive master why his leg was horribly scarred. The diver had put his leg down on a lionfish while fixing an anchor, but the wounds weren’t from the fish’s venom — they were from the treatment.

“His friends put his leg in water that was almost boiling. He was in so much pain from the sting of the fish he couldn’t tell that he was basically cooking his whole leg,” Krug said.

Krug went on to say that the state has forked over a large sum of money to get rid of invasive species in the past. On the west coast, California spent $6 million eradicating a nasty bloom of “killer algae” in San Diego, after someone dumped their saltwater tank into a nearby lagoon. And that case was considered “a small infestation.”

“Once [a species is] established they’re almost impossible to eradicate—especially marine species, just because we don’t have access to that much of the ocean,” he said. “The best thing you can do, especially as an average citizen, is don’t ever release your pets into the wild.”

Now, Florida is enlisting the community to help control lionfish numbers. The state is sponsoring “spear-a-lionfish” sport fishing events, as well as suggesting various recipes for the bothersome creature.

Watch a lionfish hunt

Florida authorities suggest cooking and eating lionfish to help with overpopulation:

Lionfish recipes

Smoked lionfish dip

Cut slits into whole lionfish and rub lemon pepper into the flesh. Cook on the grill until done. When coals burn down place lionfish back on the grill over night to dry out and absorb smoke. In the morning pull flesh off of the fish. Combine smoked lionfish with mayonnaise, fresh cilantro, fresh squeezed lemon juice, lemon pepper, onion, diced carrot, and hot sauce. Serve in a toast sandwich with lettuce and tomato.

Steamed lionfish

Coat aluminum foil wrap in olive oil then insert lionfish, onion, tomato slices, bell pepper, carrot, pineapple, squash, zuccini, lemon zest, salt, pepper, thyme. Place over a fire for 6 to 10 minutes. Serve with brown rice and a slice of fresh mango on the side.

Lionfish alfredo

Simmer onion, garlic, and lemon pepper in cream for 5 minutes then put small lionfish filets in for 3 minutes. Pour over pasta, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, garnish with fresh parsley and serve with garlic toast.