A full-scale invasion of marauding lionfish has taken over the waters of the eastern Mediterranean during the past five years, and an EU-funded project placed Cyprus on the front-line to deal with the situation.
There is a lionfish poster at the Larnaca marina with the following phrase under it: “Wanted, Dead or Fried.” In order to handle the growing situation of these beautiful but destructive creatures, the best method seems to be summed up by saying, if you can’t beat them, eat them.
The lionfish have few natural enemies outside of their native regions in the Into-Pacific, and breed at an astonishing rate. According to Lionfish.co, the lionfish can spawn up to 30,000 eggs every four days.
“Four years ago you were lucky to see one, and everyone would take a picture, saying ‘Wow, we see a lionfish’… now you dive, there are thousands,” said Christos Giovannis, a Larnaca boat skipper, in an interview with ABC News, a public news service in Australia.
The floodgates have been opened to species native to the Indo-Pacific due to the enlargement of the Suez Canal and warmer waters, which are a result of climate change, scientists say.
This poses a significant danger to the entire ecosystem of the oceans. While the lionfish possess beautiful pectoral fins and colored stripes, they have venomous dorsal fins, and can eat almost any marine creature, according to Lionfish.co.
Other countries in the region are being affected by the marine invasion as well, such as Lebanon, due to the rapidly expanding population of the creatures.
The aim of the new EU-sponsored project is to promote lionfish as a food, among other ways to control this growing problem.
Public presentations are being given by chefs offering tips on how to gut the fish and suggesting preparation options, such as cooking them on a barbecue and deep frying them. However, gloves and scissors are a requirement when handling the fins to avoid a nasty rash or prick.
“Lionfish can be prepared in many different ways. On the grill, fried … whichever way you want… As long as you remove the spine, which contains the venom, you can serve it like a normal fish,” said Stelios Georgiou, a local chef, to ABC News. And according to its fans, lion fish is actually quite delicious.
“We hope that humans can become the enemy of the lionfish in the Mediterranean,” said Periklis Kleitou, a researcher at the University of Plymouth.
The university, along with the University of Cyprus, two local research centres, and Cyprus’s fisheries department, is engaged in a research project called RELIONMED.
Teams of divers have been conducting nonstop expeditions in Cypriot waters since early 2019, in a campaign to cull the numbers of the invading fish.
The lionfish is commonly found in the Indian Ocean, Red Sea, off South Africa and in the Pacific east of Sumatra. It had first appeared in the Mediterranean off Rhodes in the summer of 2015, after it was believed to have made its way to the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal.