This is the full transcript for L is for Lionfish and Lobster from #GreenFishBlueOceans podcast. If you’d like to listen head here.

L is for lionfish

Image Mathijs Vos

This week I’m tackling L is for Lionfish and Lobster.

Welcome to the L is for Lionfish part of the program.

The Lionfish is a beautiful species. It has distinctive features—a gorgeous brown or reddish color with white stripes and spines that resemble a lion’s mane. It is quite frankly gorgeous. Lionfish are as small as one inch and can grow up to eighteen inches.

The lionfish is native to the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean. And commonly found in aquariums. But the lionfish is also extremely dangerous. It is now an invasive species in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean.

The destructive lionfish can be traced back to the early 1980s in an area just north of Miami according to whoever you ask these days. Some postulate that an aquarium owner dumped their lionfish into the ocean. That seemingly innocuous incident started the population growth that we see today. Scientists have traced the lionfish DNA back to a very small group of fish. So there may be some merit to that local theory.

This fast growing and reproducing lionfish thrive in warm coastal marine communities. Their over two million eggs per year float along oceans currents giving them a wide range of growth. Left unchecked they could continue to grow along the coast of S America to Brazil.

Two reasons for their success?

  1.  They have venomous spines.
  2. And they don’t have natural predators because they are not native to the Atlantic Ocean.

One of the biggest problems with the lionfish invasion is that they are eating a variety of native species and destroying ecosystems. Lionfish lie at depths of 190 feet and up to 1,000 feet devouring ecosystems along the way. They are voracious eaters and are known to eat over 100 species of fish—both coral reef grazers as well as commercially important fish like grouper, crabs, shrimp and snappers.

So what’s being done to get these destructive fish out of the water?

In Florida, there are Lionfish Derbies with prize money as incentives. This successful program was launched by REEF, an organization of divers and marine advocates who work to conserve marine environments worldwide. In a Derby, divers hunt for as many lionfish as they can collect and remove before sunset. Removed lionfish are used for research and sold to local markets. And while a Derby sounds like an adventure, lionfish are not easy to catch. They hang solo or in small clusters. Plus. Lionfish have venomous spines. And a sting can be fifty times worse than a wasp sting. So if you get stung by a lionfish, seek immediate medical attention.

Since the first Lionfish Derby in 2009, 18,560 lionfish have been removed in the REEF Derbies.

On a commercial level, lionfish hunting is a lucrative business. You need a $50 license in Florida (and a boat with the right gear, natch) and you can hunt for lionfish. Check with your local state licensing agency for more details if you’re interested.

In addition, marine and fisheries industries are interested in possible proposed lionfish fisheries—either traps or spearfishing for divers and spear fishers, both commercial and recreational.

Private fishermen, government, and conservation groups are all working to find solutions. From creating specific gear and tools to catch lionfish to derbies to public awareness campaigns.

However, success ultimately depends on us to eat lionfish. The reward is that the oceans and native species will be rebound.

So what do lionfish taste like?

Fortunately, lionfish is a white flakey, mild-tasting fish. The fillets are small—the perfect fish for tacos. And who doesn’t like a fish taco? Except for people…who’ve never tried one…I guess.

Now I have a disclaimer. I am not speaking from experience. I’ve never eaten lionfish. I live 800 miles from the east coast and 600 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Although I did live in Florida from about the time the lionfish were dumped in the Atlantic Ocean until just a few years ago when we relocated to Kentucky.

But I don’t recall lionfish being a problem in the Florida Keys when I lived there in the late eighties and throughout the nineties. Although I did spend the better part of my time slinging hash and eggs inside the diner than snorkeling or diving the reef. When I was on the water, I mostly fished offshore, under the seven-mile bridge, or I kayaked along the canals and backcountry. Truthfully anytime I snorkeled the Sombrero reef in Marathon, which was often enough, I was terrified of the barracuda and sharks. But the beautiful corals and tropical fish were enough to lure me back into the warm turquoise water every time.

But. I snorkeled on the surface.

Now, I do recall some chefs starting to ask for lionfish in the aughts when I worked for the wholesale seafood distributor in Orlando.

So where can you find lionfish in a seafood market or restaurant?

Whole Foods Market in Florida offers it in its seafood market. And if you live near the coast think Carolinas across the Gulf to throughout the Caribbean.

If you see lionfish on the menu? Don’t hesitate, order it.

Check the Show Notes for a recipe.

We already know this species is destructive and spreading too far to eradicate it. So it’s up to us to create the demand for lionfish and save the oceans from this gorgeous, delicious lionfish.

Check the links in the Show Notes for more Lionfish resources and information on how you can help with this incredible challenge.

Welcome to the L is for Lobster part of the program.

There are numerous lobster varieties—American Lobster, Spiny, both California and Caribbean, Langostino, and Squat lobster. There are albino lobster and blue lobsters.

But in the US, you are probably most familiar with two types of lobster—the Maine lobster and the Spiny Lobster.

Maine lobster is the kind you find in tanks in the seafood department in American grocery stores and on the N. Atlantic coastline. These bugs sport a blueish-green color with an orangish tint and hail primarily from the Maine coast. They have two front claws. When cooked, the shell turns a brilliant orangish-red. The meat offers a clean, sweet, bright flavor and is tender and meaty. You can eat the meat from the tail, the claws, and the legs and use the shells to make seafood stock. Lobsters live in murky water, under rocky crevices, along shorelines, and along the continental slope.

One of the first records of catch in Maine dates to the 1600s. The lobster was once considered a poor man’s dinner, was used for fertilizer and served to prison inmates.

But obviously, our taste buds evolved.

And there’s the warm water Spiny lobster, which does not have front claws. This lobster has a mottled brownish-red coloring with bright yellow, orange and blue markings and two cream-colored spots on its tail. Find them on rocky coral reefs, along the rocky limestones under the docks and crawling across the sandy ocean bottoms. The meat is sweet and briny. And you’ll only eat the tail meat from this bug as they are lovingly referred to in Florida.

Historical fossil records near Chiapas, Mexico indicate that warm water Spiny Caribbean lobsters were there more than 110 million years ago.

Lobsters eat crabs and shellfish. And are an important food source.

And with such a wide variety of species and a large geographic territory, there is much to know about lobsters. Most important, other than lobster as a food source, how are they doing in terms of sustainability?

The Maine lobster industry and the Spiny lobster industry in Florida are on target for maintaining sustainable fisheries.

But. Warming waters, rising tides, pollution, and overfishing are having an impact on the future of these creatures. They will either adapt or perish. It’s up to us to make changes today so we don’t have to worry about the future of lobsters.

And according to Seafood Watch, all the lobster species mentioned above fall along the best, good and avoid list based on how and where they are harvested.

For instance, American Lobster caught in S. New England is on the avoid list. Its stocks have been depleted since the early 1990s. And then there’s the whale entanglement issue—a serious problem. However, further north in the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank and Canada, the lobster fishery is in good shape.

As far as the Spiny lobster goes, lobster fisheries from Florida and Bermuda are in great shape, but not so good in Central America.

So before you shop, check seafood recommendation guidelines from Seafood Watch or EDF.

You’ve probably eaten lobster in your lifetime—lobster bisque, lobster thermidor, a lobster roll, steamed lobster, lobster meat dipped in melted butter.

Not only is lobster meat tasty, it’s packed with protein, is high in Omega 3s and low in calories and fat.

Now. In this episode, I’m all about a fish taco.

And a lobster taco is right up there with one of my favorite recipe ideas. They’re light, fresh and decadent. Mmmm.

Now, if you’re going to splurge and make lobster tacos, you’ll want to take the extra step for maximum deliciousness. Think Caramelize Chipotle Onions to add heat and smokiness. Then whip up a batch of sweet, nutty avocado cream to smear on the bottom of the taco shell to round out the flavors. Don’t worry, the bright notes of the lobster will shine through whether you buy cold water lobster or warm water lobster.

With any taco recipe, you’ll want to assemble your taco station. Now, I like soft shell tortillas for my tacos, but I know people who only eat hard shell tacos. Eat whatever makes you happy.

Then steam the lobster. Remove the meat from the shells. Use a towel to hold the shells, my friends. Those babies are going to be hot. Then chop the meat into bite-sized pieces. Assemble the tacos. Eat and Repeat.

My recipe for Lobster Tacos first appeared in Edible Orlando Magazine, Issue 5 2011. Find a link in the Show Notes for the full recipe.

And you’ll find additional reading about both lobster and lionfish in the Show Notes.

Lastly, I want to give a big shout out to Marin Hawk, fellow sustainable seafood advocate, scuba diver and Twitter friend for referring me to some amazing sites for research on this episode. Find Marin @mar_hawk on Twitter.

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Have a great two weeks.