Searching for Solutions

Scientists, divers, and even chefs are working on ways to address the lionfish problem. Lionfish don’t have any natural predators in the Atlantic Ocean. So, some scientists tried to solve the problem by teaching local predators to look at lionfish as lunch.

Here's how it worked: A diver would spear a lionfish. Then offer the fish as a meal to a nearby barracuda or shark. While the predators would gladly eat the lionfish they were offered, most of them didn’t start hunting lionfish on their own. They expected handouts. Some species began to get aggressive with divers.

A diver spears several lionfish during a lionfish "derby."

Fishing Tournaments

Divers have had more luck managing the problem using the lionfish "derby.” This is a single‑day event to collect and remove as many lionfish at a given location as possible. Teams SCUBA dive, free dive, or snorkel. They collect lionfish by netting them or spearing them. Prizes are given out to teams that catch the most.

The public is invited to attend the competition. They can taste free lionfish samples and learn more about lionfish.

From 2009 to 2018, the Reef Environment Education Foundation (REEF) hosted derbies. They removed more than 23,000 lionfish from specific sites.

Chefs prepare new lionfish recipes.

A Fishy Fare

Lionfish are not poisonous. They are venomous. The difference between poison and venom is the method of delivery. Poison must be eaten or absorbed to be harmful. Venom must be injected into the bloodstream through a sharp spine or fang, for example.

So, lionfish are safe to eat. Some chefs have adopted a strategy. “If we can’t beat them, eat them.” In 2010, REEF released a cookbook to get commercial divers interested in catching lionfish. The book includes many recipes. Chefs at top restaurants have tried to find creative ways to prepare this new cuisine.

Setting a Trap

Steve Gittings, chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Sanctuary System, has another strategy. His idea uses a lionfish's own behavior to trap it.

Lionfish like to gather in groups around underwater structures. So Gittings developed a trap. When the trap hits an ocean surface, it springs open and lays flat. Inside, a few plastic objects float up. These objects attract lionfish. When a fisherman tugs on the trap, it closes, shutting in any lionfish.

At this point there is no way to completely eliminate the lionfish population. But we must continue to manage the threat. The health of our coral reefs depends on it.

This trap, seen just off shore from Destin, Florida, snaps shut to capture lionfish.