Chefs can play a leading role in creating markets and economic incentive for fisheries that need greater attention. While I’ve covered this dynamic frequently in articles and blog entires, I’m usually looking at situations where chefs are introducing diners to abundant and underutilized species (e.g., redfish) as a means of taking pressure off species that are being overfished (e.g., cod). For the current issue of CORAL Magazine, however, I had the opportunity to pen a piece coming at the situation from a very different angle.
I had the chance to talk about chefs encouraging the overfishing of a species.
The lionfish invasion of the western Atlantic is the best documented, most destructive marine fish invasion on record. The scientific literature shows that removing invasive lionfishes from an area where they have become established can have a dramatic positive effect on native fishes in the vicinity. As such, encouraging harvest of invasive lionfishes is one of the best tools available in the effort to control the invasion. While recreational divers are generally doing a good job removing lionfishes at popular dive sites, creating robust lionfish food and aquarium fisheries can assist with controlling lionfishes over a broader area.
The Chefs Collaborative is a Boston-based non-profit organization that works nation-wide to fix what they term a “broken food system” by engaging chefs in a network that inspires and educates them to change how they source, cook and serve food. Through Chefs Collaborative so-called “Trash Fish Dinners,” attention is focused on undervalued and underutilized species. While these Trash Fish Dinners are perhaps best known for highlighting species we should be eating because the fisheries for those species are sustainable, they have also been at the leading edge of encouraging unsustainable fisheries for invasive species like Asian carp and lionfishes. In January 2010, Chef’s Collaborative explained in a blog entry titled “Lionfish and Asian Carp….Oh My!” Here’s an excerpt:
Many of us are familiar with the phrase “eat it to save it”–a philosophy made popular by New Orleans chef and culinary activist Poppy Tooker that urges us to eat the things we’d like to see on our plates for generations to come. In recent weeks, we’ve seen just the opposite philosophy take hold as chefs and diners alike are eating various species of fish to get rid of them.
Because lionfish are currently not aquacultured on fish farms, every one eaten is one less lionfish on the reef. The next Trash Fish Dinner will be in Sarasota, Florida on 21 July, and I’m guessing lionfish will be on the menu.
You don’t, however, have to wait for an event to eat a lionfish. More and more restaurants in Florida and beyond are serving lionfish, and there is even a lionfish cookbook available for those of you who want to take the battle into your own kitchen (in the CORAL Magazine article I reveal the author’s favorite recipe!). Bon appétit!
For more on the lionfish food fishery, as well as the lionfish invasion in general, I encourage you to delve into the current print issue of CORAL Magazine, which is available at Barnes & Noble and elsewhere.
A special note of thanks to my good friend, respected author and extraordinary illustrator Richard King for his illustration at the top of this blog entry as well as the one that accompanies my article “Eat Thine Enemy” in the print edition of CORAL Magazine. Please check out Rich’s most recent book The Devil’s Cormorant: A Natural History.