Why José Andrés Wants You To Eat More Invasive Lionfish

Chef, television personality, and activist José Andrés is known for using his platform to effect change. And this extends to his menu: He wants people to eat edible invasive species like lionfish to help restore balance in the marine ecosystem.

Native to the Indo-Pacific region, lionfish are revered for their beauty. They are also venomous and can become dangerous when they live in areas where they have few natural predators or competitors, like the Atlantic coral reefs. Andrés told National Geographic that lionfish "outlive, out eat and outbreed all of the other species, hurting the health of our oceans and the health of the local economies."

Andrés said he first became aware of this after scuba diving on a trip to the Cayman Islands, where the stunning appearance of the lionfish captivated him. Another chef, James Beard Award winner Michael Schwartz, introduced him to the problems lionfish cause. As he learned more, he grew committed to helping. To do his part, Andrés serves lionfish in his Bahamian restaurant Fish. He told Robb Report, "By serving this dish, we are helping the ecosystem of the Bahamas' waters."

How and why lionfish are a problem in the Atlantic

Eating invasive fish may be another way to consume seafood in a way that promotes sustainability. Sustainable fishing refers to practices where fishers limit their catch to match the rate the fish can naturally repopulate. Sometimes external factors like changes in the environment and the establishment of new invasive species threaten the native species' ability to thrive.

Thanks to the lionfish's distinctive appearance, they are popular pets among aquarium enthusiasts. In the 1980s, they started appearing in the Atlantic, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). In the 2000s, the population of lionfish near the Atlantic coast and the Caribbean rapidly multiplied. The agency indicated a need for more research to understand their impact fully. A 2008 study conducted by Oregon State University found that just one lionfish can reduce the presence of native fish in the Atlantic coastal ecosystem by 79%.

Despite being venomous, lionfish are both tasty and safe to eat when prepared by a knowledgeable chef. While they're not common on menus, but they might just be a seafood you need to try before you die.