At your next summer get together, skip the grilled salmon, tuna salad or baked tilapia. Instead, do something good for the environment: eat an invasive species of fish.
That’s what Edible Invaders, a small business in Florida, is trying to convince consumers to do. The three-year-old company is located in Pensacola, a popular waterfront getaway on the Florida Panhandle whose reefs have been overrun by lionfish in recent years. (It’s believed that aquarium owners introduced the tropical, white-and-maroon striped tropical fish or its eggs into the Gulf of Mexico.) A natural predator doesn’t exist in American waters, so the Indo-Pacific native swims freely, wreaking havoc in Southeastern coral reefs and fisheries. Only humans, Edible Invaders argues, can keep the fish from proliferating by feasting on it fried or ground into the company’s signature dip.
Clara Proctor, Edible Invader’s day-to-day operations manager says that it’s a challenge to get local residents to eat sustainably. So how is she doing it? “We make it easy. It’s not going to involve you in any way: we harvest the fish, we make something ready to eat, we put it in the grocery store. All you have to do is open a lid, and you’re part of the solution.”
After seeing the lionfish’s venomous spines, which can induce an achy, under-the-skin sting that feels “like 20 bees at once,” Proctor’s fishermen report, some diners worry that the seafood may be unsafe to eat. But Proctor constantly reminds consumers that there’s a difference between venom, which must reach the bloodstream directly, and poison, which must be eaten to do damage. At any temperature over 150 degrees Fahrenheit, the lionfish venom’s proteins are denatured.
Currently, the lionfish (a white, flaky meat that tastes a little bit sweet, buttery and mild, according to Proctor’s palate) is available only in local restaurants and markets, but Edible Invaders is planning a national expansion. The company recently signed a deal with Sysco Foods and is working on a new recipe for the dip that will be stocked at Whole Foods.
“I don’t foresee lionfish being out of our waters — ever,” Proctor says, but she believes that by eating lionfish and its products, the population can be controlled, cleaning the waters of a dangerous predator. Once Edible Invaders proves that concept, expect it to serve up some new invasive species for dinner.