Whole Foods expanded its seafood department in a way that could help preserve underwater reefs along the Florida coast. The grocery chain has begun selling fresh lionfish, a prickly, non-native species at 26 stores in Florida. Once caught and placed on ice, the fish is safe to consume after its venomous spines have been removed. Employees at stores carrying the fish have been trained to remove the spines, leaving white fish meat. The white flaky meat has a sweet flavor and tastes like snapper. Lionfish can be grilled, blackened, sautéed or baked.
Lionfish are a marine species that are primarily red, brown and white and has a striped, zebra-like appearance. Lionfish have venomous spines that are used defensively against predators. These spines should be avoided during capture and handling because of their ability to cause injuries. The flesh of the lionfish is not poisonous or venomous. Lionfish are an invasive species that have a potential negative impact on the overall reef habitat. Lionfish invasion is considered to be one of the most serious threats to Caribbean and Florida coral reef ecosystems. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) encourages people to remove lionfish from Florida waters to help limit negative impacts to marine life and ecosystems. Lionfish can be speared, caught in hand-held nets or caught on hook and line and there is no recreational or commercial bag limit.
In 2010, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) began a campaign to encourage the consumption of the fish. The "Lionfish as Food" campaign encourages human hunting of the fish. Encouraging the consumption of lionfish could help to maintain a population density and also provide an alternative fishing source to overfished populations, such as grouper and snapper. NOAA also encourages people to report lionfish sightings, to help track lionfish population dispersal.