Invasive Fish Species: If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Eat ‘Em

ColumnNew Consumer Guide by Food & Water Watch Recommends Eating Invasive Fish.

The Northeastern Cod fishery collapsed years ago as a result of overfishing. And if you’ve been wondering why red snapper is so expensive and hard to find, it’s on its way out too. With so many of our delicious native fish decimated, why not turn our considerable appetites toward the destruction of a few species that really need to be eaten?

Food & Water Watch has released its 2011 National Smart Seafood consumer guide, and this year there’s a twist—for the first time, the guide lists invasive species like the Chinese Mitten Crab and the Walking Catfish in an effort to encourage consumers to think of these intruders as food.

It may sound humorous to recommend eating invasive species but, like the kangaroos in Australia, invasive fish species are a serious problem, though they are often considered delicacies in their native countries. And eating them can be a positive environmental act. For example, the Lionfish, likely introduced by people releasing aquarium fish into coastal waters, has established itself on the East Coast of the U.S. and in the Caribbean. With no known predators, this rapidly reproducing fish can eat enough to overtake native species. Luckily, when grilled, it tastes like a mild, meaty whitefish and can be a stand-in for that snapper you’ve been missing.

Similarly, the Asian Carp, introduced intentionally by U.S. Catfish farmers to control algae blooms, has spread throughout the major rivers of the Southeast and is beginning to reach the Great Lakes. Because they don’t just feed on algae, but also phytoplankton, their ravenous hunger can throw off local ecosystems and decimate native fish species. Thankfully they have a mild flavor and make a tasty ceviche. (Pictured above)

To highlight just how delicious these creatures can be, Food & Water watch invited a few chefs to demonstrate how to prepare them at an event at the James Beard House in New York City. One of the fish prepared by the chefs was a Lionfish, a species notorious for its venomous spines and insatiable appetite.

“Once you remove a Lionfish’s spines and neutralize the poison by grilling it, it tastes like any other whitefish – like snapper or grouper,” said Chef Kerry Heffernan, who is the executive chef at New York City’s South Gate Restaurant. “Cooking Lionfish, like cooking many other invasive species, may be intimidating at first. But with a little education even the most amateur cook can safely prepare it at home.”

Food & Water Watch’s 2011 Smart Seafood Guide also gives consumers information on more traditional seafood like shrimp, trout or tuna. The guide lists over 100 types of seafood in total and is the only guide assessing not only the human health and environmental impacts of eating certain seafood, but also the socio-economic impacts on coastal and fishing communities. Download it here.

Want to know how to prepare Lionfish yourself? Here’s a site with several recipes. But first, make sure you know how to filet one safely.

Still hungry? Here’s a video of Gordon Ramsey preparing Chinese Mitten Crab. Enjoy!

Images: Food & Water Watch

This is the latest installment in Vanessa Barrington’s weekly column, The Green Plate, on the environmental, social, and political issues related to what and how we eat.

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.