Tasty treat: But local fisherman said catching lionfish has been difficult, leaving chefs nothing to fry up in their restaurants. *Creative Commons photo
Tasty treat: But local fisherman said catching lionfish has been difficult, leaving chefs nothing to fry up in their restaurants. *Creative Commons photo

It seems a simple solution to a huge problem — catch the lionfish decimating our marine species and serve them up on our own dinner plates.

But although there is a will, there is presently no way, according to the island’s fishermen.

Many have been contacted by chefs eager to serve up the tasty, flaky fish in their restaurants, but catching them is a problem.

Lionfish feature on menus throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and US, but have yet to appear in Bermuda restaurants.

At North Rock Restaurant in Smith’s, head chef Brendon Monts said: “Supply is hit and miss. The last time I had lionfish was four months ago.”

He said at his former restaurant in Palm Beach, Florida, lionfish were more plentiful as “the waters aren’t so deep there, so you can spear them easier”.

Chris Malpas, head chef at Butterfield Bank, has cooked up the fish at the Groundswell Lionfish Tournaments and works to raise awareness of it as an eating fish.

“The biggest challenge we have is getting a consistent commercial supply,” said Mr Malpas. 

“The desire to try it, the demand for it, is huge. Lionfish has a taste in between hogfish and grouper. I keep getting people to ask me, ‘Where can I eat them?’”

He said: “We need to get more of a buy-in from the commercial fishermen. Perhaps Government could have some kind of ‘drop-off’ area.”

He also called for a register of chefs and of fishermen to assist in meeting demand with supply.

Michael Baxter, who reef fishes on the Ellen B, said: “When I’ve been lobster potting in deep waters, of more than 150ft, I’ve caught a few of them.

“They do go in the lobster traps but I’ve only found them in deeper water, so that seems to be one of the problems.”

Delvin Bean took part in an experiment by Government’s Fisheries department this summer. He and his brother Allan were among three groups of fishermen given two sets of three different traps to place on the platform, at 180-240ft.

“They were just like lobster pots, but had three different types of funnel: two had lobster pot funnels, with a six inch PVC ring; two had a regular fish pot funnel, with a wire ring that could be closed; and two were full-blown fish pots, with a pointy-end funnel,” he said.

Pathetic

“As I understand, we were the only ones who caught any lionfish. We put every type of bait in the traps but we only caught seven in the three times we went out. That’s pathetic.

“One of the big problems we had was that there were escape hatches in the pots to let regular fish out, so the pots were coming up empty.

“Why would you have us fishing for something when there were holes in the traps? It was a complete waste of time.”

Since the experiment, he said, Government has supplied cameras to record lionfish activity around the pots.

“One fisherman told me the first day his pot was there, there was nothing. But the second day, one picture showed 27 lionfish around it,” said Mr Bean.

“But that pot only caught one lionfish. If they can get in the pots, they also get out.

“But unless we start targeting them now, and going out on a weekly basis, there will be no fish left.

“Lionfish are going through this island like a plague. Give it another five years and you may as well close down the fishing industry.

“Lionfish eat everything, they don’t discriminate. So we shouldn’t discriminate in how we catch them.

“We need the tools to do the job, using traps, hook and line — every way we can.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection said: “A list of chefs interested in purchasing lionfish has been compiled and made available to any fishermen who wish to sell them.  

She added: “The Marine Resources Section is presently collaborating with lobster fishermen to gain a better understanding of the way in which lionfish interact with lobster traps, with the aim of developing a trap that will capture them more consistently.”