A series of venomous spines along its back means the invasive lionfish has no natural predators in U.S. waters.
But now the species is up against another predator — man.
Lionfish are being sold at 26 Whole Foods Market stores in Florida as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission continues its effort to educate the public about how delicious and innocuous the fish is once its poisonous spines are removed.
Only the spines contain the venom, not the meat, a common misconception the conservation commission has been working to dispel, even in online how-to videos.
“Once you take the spines out of the equation, it’s just like any other fish,” FWC spokeswoman Amanda Nalley told the Miami Herald. “We’re trying to get people excited about it. Nothing is slowing it down — except us.”
The commission is doing everything it can to create open season on lionfish.
The group has co-sponsored spearfishing tournaments — lionfish can only be speared or caught in hand-held nets, not line-caught. And only those who plan to sell it need a license. The commission even has a reward program: Those who remove at least 50 lionfish and bring them to a commission checkpoint between May and September are entered in a raffle to win prizes.
Those who spear 50 before the July 27-28 lobster mini-season are entered in a drawing to take an extra spiny lobster each day. Whoever catches the most will be crowned Lionfish King or Queen.
Because lionfish eat the tastiest fish — hogfish, snapper, yellowtail, grouper — it becomes the tastiest fish. With the spines cut off, lionfish fillets just like other fish. It also can be baked whole to take advantage of the extra meat.
The price doesn’t hurt, either. For a flavor that rivals hogfish, which sells for $25 a pound at Whole Foods, lionfish goes for $8.99 a pound. The fishmonger cleaned, de-spined and wrapped a whole lionfish and handed it to a customer for slightly more than nine bucks.