“I often compare it to a flounder. It’s a nice,
white flaky fish. It lends itself well to a
fillets are thin. But
sautéing, baking, broil-ing,
frying. It’s not oily like a
mackerel, or bony like other bottom-dwellers,
or anything like that. It’s a
delicious fish. We sell out of it all the
time we have it.”
So does Brent Williams, owner and
chef at Brent’s Bistro.
“Most people are curious to try it,”
he says. “Then they are blown away. It’s
an easy sell once people find out how
good it is. They’re an ugly fish, but they
When lionfish is on the menu, every-one
benefits. Commercial fishermen
can take as many as they want without
the fear of overfishing. Seafood con-sumers
can enjoy a delicious meal that
benefits the local marine ecology.
“Just the fact that we’re seeing them
now locally and can get them is incred-ible,”
Williams says. “We’re catching
them right off our coast. If it’s on the
plate, it’s good for the environment. It’s
For commercial spearfishermen,
lionfish tend to be seasonal. There are
no restrictions at any time of the year,
but it makes more economic sense
during the warm summer months to
hunt larger fish like grouper that fetch
a greater price while they are in season.
That leads to a lack of availability at
restaurants and fish houses.
“It’s so unpredictable when the divers
go out for them,” Surratt says. “I call
Motts every morning, and if they have
lionfish I’ll ask for it. It’s probably about
two, three times a month I can get it.”
Even when lionfish are available, they
aren’t always in high demand. For one
thing, there’s the exotic appearance.
Lionfish don’t look like anything else on
display at Motts.
WBM july 2017
a mixed bag,”
“Some people think
they are weird looking, some
people think they are cool look-ing.
A lot of people are surprised we
Then there’s the perception that
they might be poisonous. That’s what
McInnis thought the first time he was
offered a lionfish.
“A friend said, ‘I have a special treat,’”
he says. “I was like, ‘Whoa, dude, is my
mouth going to go numb?’”
Williams sometimes hears the same
thing at Brent’s Bistro.
“I’ve had some customers joke, ‘If
my lips turn blue call an ambulance,’’’
Proponents of eating lionfish point
out that they are perfectly safe to eat.
“The poison is located in the spines,”
Simpson says. “A couple of hours after
they die, it’s harmless. It’s still quite a
serious needle, but the toxin is harm-less.
And it’s not in the meat at all.”
For now, the bulk of the catch is
brought in by spearfishermen. An ecol-ogy
group in Pensacola, Florida — the
self-proclaimed lionfish capital of the
world because of the amount of them
teeming in the warm waters off the
Florida panhandle — is experimenting
with traps that could remove them in
bulk without harming other species.
As word gets out and they become
more popular as seafood, there could be
a greater effort to catch and to eat them.
“I tend to think as awareness grows,
folks will search for lionfish when
they go out,” Rhodes says. “We can’t
eat flounder all the time. There’s a
wave and passion now for sustainable
seafood. We have to look at our local
aquatic system and how we can ensure
there’s future fish out there for people
PHOTOS BY ALLISON POTTER
Commercial fisherman can take as many lionfish, an invasive species, as they want without fear of overfishing. Lionfish don’t seem to take
bait, and are typically found at depths of 80 feet or more, but spearfishing for them has done well. Commercial spearfisherman Danyar
Khaiboullin, crew member on Albie Solano’s boat Orion, with a lionfish catch the two brought into Motts Channel Seafood in May.