By: Claire Thomas

Most Bahamians are familiar with the lionfish, an invasive species setting up shop in The Bahamas. With venomous spines, bright red coloration, and a voracious appetite, these fish cannot be ignored. Lionfish are originally from the Indo-Pacific, but they made their way to the coast of Florida in the 1980’s, most likely from pet owners releasing aquarium fish.

Lionfish swimming on a patch reef in South Eleuthera.

Lionfish first showed up in The Bahamas in 2004, and since then their population has exploded. There are several reasons for this. First, the lionfish have no native predators- nothing here wants to eat them! This may be due to the fact that lionfish have 18 venomous spines, which could cause pain if some big fish tried to eat them. (That’s venom, not poison. The meat is not poisonous!). Second, lionfish eat almost anything, from invertebrates like juvenile spiny lobster, to important fish species like juvenile snapper, grunts, parrotfish, and grouper. They’ve been known to eat over 50 different species of fish. It’s not hard to imagine how quickly they can grow and the damage they are doing to our reefs.

At the Cape Eleuthera Institute, the Lionfish Research and Education Program (LREP), led by Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick, is working to learn more about what these fish are doing to our reefs, and how we can fix the problem. The LREP team monitors patch reefs in South Eleuthera, and measures how the native fish are affected by lionfish. One of their biggest goals, though, is to help solve the problem. One solution- eat lionfish! Lionfish season is open all year round, and lionfish are delicious, white and meaty, and some say better than grouper.

A photograph of the lionfish with its spines- carefully remove these before filleting!

As mentioned earlier, lionfish meat is not poisonous. Once a fish is speared, and you carefully remove the spines, you can fillet and eat the fish the same as any other fish. For videos on filleting lionfish, check out We have also included some of our favorite recipes, taken from The Lionfish Cookbook, authored by Tricia Ferguson and Lad Akins of the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF;

Lionfish salad

8 lionfish fillets
1 tomato
2 scotch bonnet peppers
½ onion
8 limes
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
Dice fish into 1-inch pieces and place in a shallow dish. In a small bowl, juice the 8 limes. Add the lime juice to fish and marinate in refrigerator for 1 ½ hours.
Dice the onions, tomatoes, and scotch bonnet peppers, and add to the fish mixture. Stir in salt and cilantro. Cover and place back in refrigerator for 30 minutes. Remove and serve.

Baked lionfish

8 lionfish fillets
2 cups spinach
1 cup bread crumbs
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp lemon zest
Lemon juice from ½ lemon
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp vegetable oil
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place lionfish in oven safe dish. Chop spinach leaves and arrange on top of fish. Combine bread crumbs, parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, oil, and salt and pepper in bowl. Spoon bread crumb mixture over fish. Bake for 15 minutes.

Island School student (FA’13) Jesse Courtemanche offers cracked lionfish to guests at the CEI/IS Research Symposium (Left). Students from Deep Creek Middle School enjoy eating lionfish that was served at the CEI booth at Conch Fest 2013 (Right).

Cooking with lionfish is easy, and the more lionfish we eat, the less there are out on the reef eating the native fish. If you do ever get stung by a lionfish, don’t panic! Common symptoms are localized pain, swelling, and numbness of the affected area. But, there are a few steps you can take for immediate first aid before seeking medical attention.

  1.  Carefully remove the remaining spine(s)
  2.  Wash the area with soap and water or use an antibiotic cream
  3. Heat denatures the venom. It is recommended that you submerge the affected area in UNSCALDING hot water for 30-90 minutes. This will relieve some of the pain. Make sure you test the temperature of the water on an unaffected body part to avoid burning your skin.

The best defense against lionfish stings is prevention.  Use caution when handling lionfish that are dead or alive. Gloves may be worn for protection when handling the fish. Scissors are a useful tool for removing spines.

The Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) and The Island School are looking forward to working with the local communities to decrease the lionfish population. This lobster closed season they will be buying lionfish for a price that beats grouper and lobster! Keep an eye out for flyers at cleaning stations throughout the island starting on April 1st.

For any questions about lionfish, please contact Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick at the Cape Eleuthera Institute, email:  phone: 334-8552 ex 6206. You can also visit our website at and read up on current research on our blog,