MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Lionfish have been devastating Florida's aquatic ecosystem as uninterrupted predators of native species. But now Miami chefs are turning the tables, putting these invasive fish on their menus.
They hope harvesting these fish for food is one way to rid the reefs of this nuisance.
CBS4's Brian Andrews watched as a chef at Fish Fish Restaurant Bar & Market in North Miami prepared a lionfish with some real flair.
After frying a whole lionfish, the chef loaded the plate with fries and garnished it with a little pico de gallo.
So how did a fish native to the Indian Ocean start cropping up in our ocean?
"It happened down here, that's the one thing we know. Florida was the epicenter," said Dr. Chris Blanar of Nova Southeastern University.
According to Blanar, someone released their pet lionfish into the ocean in the late 80's and they blossomed ever since.
"They curled around and have since invaded pretty much the entire Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico."
That's because scientists said lionfish are champion fornicators.
"They're spawning about every four days, under the right conditions, which means there are a lot of potential baby lionfish out there," said NSU Dr. David Kerstetter.
Since they were introduced into our waters without any natural enemies the local fish are confused, researchers said.
"Our fish don't know how to eat them, don't know how to approach the poisonous spines, don't even know to recognize them as potential food items," said Blanar.
So NSU researchers decided to look for a scientific way to nip the lionfish problem. They started with an email to researchers from South America to Bermuda.
"Let's work together, let's pool our resources. Send us all the fish you can catch, and they did that," said Blanar.
Grant money helped pay for the shipping.
"If the fish are fresh, we try to dissect them right away before they get really stinky," said Blanar.
What he and other NSU researchers are looking for is parasites.
"Do these fish have any parasites? Did they bring any new parasites with them that might affect local fish and have they picked up any of the local parasites. What role could those local parasites play in ultimately controlling the lionfish?" said Blanar.
What researchers found is that native parasites have already stated to get into the lionfish.
"So it may act as a natural break to the population," said Kerstetter.
Studying their diet is also key to controlling them Blanar said. It gives researchers a better idea of who the lionfish are interacting with, who they are competing with and who they are replacing on the reef.
Ultimately, scientist said the invasive lionfish may be beaten by invaders of their own.
"They might be invaded themselves by these parasites and beaten from the inside," said Blanar.
In the meantime, if you can't beat them, eat them.
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