Invasives on the Menu

by Lina Lopez

photographs by Amy McDermott and Erin Eastwood

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Photos by Amy McDermott and Erin Eastwood

You’ve just sat down to a tasty seafood meal on the remote Caribbean island of Old Providence. On the menu you see something called lionfish, seasoned with authentic local spices. This dish sounds fantastic, but what exactly is it?

The lionfish (Pterois volitans) is a colorful coral reef fish, whose long flowing fins, striking red and black stripes, and graceful movements make it a popular aquarium species. Although they are native to the tropical South Pacific and Indian Oceans, lionfish have been introduced far from home, into the inviting waters of the Caribbean Sea.

With no natural predators to control their populations here, and smaller prey species unhabituated to their voracity, introduced lionfish decimate local reef fish populations.

Lionfish are ruthless predators in the coral reef ecosystem, and are rapidly eating their way through the reefs' juvenile fish populations. Lobster, crab, and shrimp populations are also under siege. These threatened species play important roles in the health of the reef and in native islanders' daily diets, and as they disappear, both people and their environment suffer. To lose local marine biodiversity to the lionfish would be devastating.

To make matters worse, lionfish populations are growing quickly out of control in the Caribbean Sea. A single female of this species can lay up to two million eggs per year, which are dispersed far and wide by ocean currents.

So where did these lionfish come from?

Possible theories on their introduction in the Caribbean Sea range from deliberate release by aquarium owners to accidental escape from South Florida beachside aquarium, after it was devastated by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

In just two decades, lionfish have spread far beyond their native Indo-Pacific range, leaving an environmental crisis in their wake.


Putting lionfish on the menu is one new and innovative strategy to mitigate the damage this introduced fish causes in the Caribbean Sea.

Devised by native chief Arelis Howard and local fisherman Orvil Robinson, this project markets the invasive lionfish as a gastronomic treat on Colombia's Old Providence island. Eating this invasive is a tasty strategy to mitigate the environmental damage it causes.

Several Caribbean island communities have begun to adopt lionfish as part of their gastronomic and cultural wealth. These days, tourists on the islands can frequently find lionfish on the menu as an eco-delicacy.

This valuable process at once promotes social community development, shows the natural and cultural wealth of the local Raizal islanders, and provides them with a local economic alternative for sustainable development.

So for the sake of conservation, let's eat some lionfish!

The only practical method to remove lionfish from the water is by spearing and net collection. So get your spear prepared and your grill hot and let’s eat lionfish fillets!

Opal's Lionfish Delight

Arelis Howard's Lion Fish fillets breaded in stew Jumbaleen served within baked baskets of green bananas.



2 lbs of lion fish fillet

2 tbsp of coconut oil

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

1 oz of tamarind wine

1/2 oz of coconut milk

2 tablespoon of stew Jumbaleen

Salt and pepper to taste

4 fresh basil leaves chopped



1.To prepare the coconut milk, first liquefy 1 coconut with 1 ½ cup of warm water, strain and reserve.

2.Wash the fish fillets and dry them.

3.Season the fish fillets with salt and pepper to taste.

4.Mix the minced garlic with the coconut oil and spread on top the fish fillets.

5.In a small pot mix the coconut milk, the tamarind wine, and the Jumbaleen jam. Reduce the mixture on a medium flame for one minute. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and pepper, blend and cook for one more minute.

6.In a hot pawn with hot vegetable oil add the fillets and fry for one minute until lightly browned. Turn over fillets and brown on other side for another minute.

7.Chop the fillets in big cubes and put them in the centre of a clean square plate forming a pyramid.

8.Put a tablespoon of Jumbaleen fruits and beaded with the mixture. Chop the basil leaves and spread them on top. 

9.Accompany with patacones (flattened deep-fried green bananas), lettuce, cherry tomatoes and coconut rice.

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Lina is an ethno-biologist who has worked with artisanal fishing communities in Colombia to promote the sustainable use of hydro-biological resources. She can be reached at

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