Wondering where the lions are

I somehow missed the news about the lionfish invasion of the Caribbean, which has been a thing for at least 15 years. Forget about Johnny Depp – these are the real marauding pirates. Lionfish are particularly attractive saltwater fish and that is where this whole problem started. Apparently, people with salt water aquariums liked their esthetic appeal but then realized the error of their ways when the lionfish ate all the other inhabitants of the aquarium for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Because that’s what lionfish do: eat anything that swims or even just lies there in the sand. And that’s not the worst part. They are also incredibly good at reproducing. A single female releases up to two million eggs per year. So when some of those aquarium enthusiasts with buyer’s remorse set their lionfish free all hell broke loose.

Here is another fun fact about lionfish: they cannot be caught by baiting, trapping or trawling. My extensive research did not explain why this is and I find it baffling that something that acts like an aquatic vacuum cleaner would ignore bait, but apparently they do. That means the only way to kill them is by old fashioned spear fishing. Oh, and did I mention they are venomous? Not even Stephen King could invent anything more horrifying.

However, fortunately the one redeeming characteristic of a lionfish is that it is very very tasty, a fact to which I can attest via lionfish tacos, lionfish curry and lionfish fritters recently consumed in Grand Cayman. And that is exactly the path many Caribbean islands have taken to put as much of a dent in the lionfish population as possible – encourage eating lionfish. Should you wish to try it yourself without needing a plane ticket, Google says Amazon will ship lionfish fillets directly to your door. Oh wait – on further examination, they only sell a decorative silicon lionfish as an aquarium decoration or a mug with a picture of a lionfish on it. Never mind.

But this is just another example of life being better in the sunny south. Our local invasive water critters do not appear to have any redeeming qualities. I don’t think being steamed in white wine sauce would make zebra mussels palatable although the equally troublesome round goby seems to like them. And even though they look kind of like some species of harmless native fish, eat goby at your own peril if you want to avoid botulism.

I also learned It isn’t just fancy fish that cause problems when set free. Who knew that even the goldfish is an official member of the invasive species club? I wouldn’t except for a very informative government website about all things invasive. It even tells you how to recognize a goldfish at twenty paces in case your primary school didn’t get to that part of the curriculum. And that’s how it goes with invasive species: harmless in one context, dangerous in another. Come to think of it, kind of like Donald Trump.

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