From Predator to Platter: A Gourmet Dinner Featuring Lionfish

Just off the Gulf Coast lurks a predator- a predator that has delivered quite a punch to the reef ecosystems of Florida and the Caribbean alike. As much a predator as the land species it shares a name with, the Lionfish has grown to be a tremendous threat with no natural predator to control it.

The Lionfish, or Pterois Volitans to marine biologists, is a stunningly beautiful, yet venomous fish. It’s red, white and black bands across its body, in addition to its distinctly displayed fins; make this top fish look as majestic as the king it is of marine ecosystems. Though stunning to look at, the lionfish contain poisonous spiked fin rays.  But why is the fish such a threat?

Dr. Philip Kramer from the Director of Florida Institute of Oceanography based in Saint Petersburg notes that lionfish were introduced to the east coast of Florida sometime in the 1980s to early 1990s and initially spread to the Bahamas and eventually through the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Female lionfish can release up to 15,000 eggs, so with no natural predator and a 15 year life span the fish has easily grown to be a big problem to pre-existing eco-systems. Skilled and very hungry hunters, the king fish prays on small fish, mollusks and invertebrates as well as the eggs of Grouper and like fish popular to the Gulf preventing the next generation from developing.

So what is being done to fight back? Removing them is one way humans can make a difference. According to Dr. Kramer in recent years Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC),  Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) and The National Oceanic Atmospheric Adminstration (NOAA) have sponsored lionfish removal events like the Lionfish Derby, a competitive spear fishing tournament with the goal of gathering as many lionfish as possible. NOAA has also implemented a “Lionfish as Food” campaign to encourage the hunting and consumption of the fish which includes educating chefs on how to properly prepare the fish.

With the lionfish being a venomous fish the question arises, “why would anyone eat it?” Rest assured the fish is perfectly safe for consumption. The danger lies in filleting the fish, removing its venomous spines. According to NOAA, the fish has a “delicious, delicate flavor similar in texture to Grouper.”

The Club TI’s Executive Chef, Paul Liptak has teamed up with local celebrity chef, Jeffrey Hileman, Executive Chef for Locale Market and FarmTable Kitchen, to bring you a five course exquisite dinner starring the lionfish, Thursday, October 19. Attendees will learn more about the invasive fish including a live demonstration on how to properly fillet it. A portion of the night’s proceeds will benefit FIO Innovation Fund which supports research to combat the Lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tickets $75 per person, $125 for wine pairings by Locale Market & FarmTable Kitchen Sommelier, Julian Mayor

Members can reserve with GroupValet, public reservations can be made through Club Concierge at 727.367.4511