Florida restaurants serving up venomous lionfish, hoping to help eradicate harmful invasive species

Scientist hope consumers develop taste for fish

JUPITER, Fla. -- - Florida scientists are coming together on Tuesday where they will spend three days to discuss and debate how to stop the venomous invasive species before a total takeover.

One solution emerging to help eradicate the growing threat is simply catching, cooking and eating the lionfish.

At Leftovers Cafe in Jupiter, the spiny creature is the newest item that has everyone talking.

"They say like, 'Will I die if I eat it?' Kind of a bit of an awkward question," said Arturo Serrano, chef at Leftovers Cafe

Serrano did not know what to make of adding the invasive species to the menu at first.

But after realizing the lionfish is killing of native species and ravaging South Florida reefs, he jumped aboard.

"I mean it's eating all our local fish, it's really killing all of the reef. I mean it's a really beautiful fish but it's a very mean fish," said Serrano.

Florida Fish and Wildlife is hoping the lionfish is the next big fish to hit menus.

"The good thing about there being a commercial market is that you'll have more people targeting them and taking them to the store," said Amanda Neeley, FWC spokesperson.

Neeley said one obstacle standing in the way of a commercial lionfish market is that it is hard to catch.

She also said she fears consumers might have a hard time eating a fish that packs quite the sting.

"I think there's some hesitation, there's some misconception that maybe because lionfish have venomous spines, that the venom is inside the meat. That's not true," said Neeley.

Neeley like Chef Serrano said the venom dies when the fish does. They also said the heat from cooking the fish neutralizes the venom.

Chef Serrano understands lionfish are in South Florida to stay, but hopes a new market can help soften the impact one bite at a time.
    
"We'll eat it, it's a delicious fish and it will help restore our oceans," said Serrano.

The other solution being discussed among Florida scientist is holding more lionfish derbies.

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