If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em!

Photo by Boogies with Fish | flickr.com

For all the adventurous food enthusiasts out there, here’s something unique that should get you excited and be environmentally responsible too. Invasive species are foreign organisms transported from one part of the planet and introduced to another where they had previously not existed and are therefore alien to the new eco-system.

Their effect on the new eco-system can range from being a petty nuisance to outright lethal! Battling them costs money, time and manpower. But a new solution has arisen because of the ingenuity of some people and the versatility of our palates.

The lionfish, which is native to Asia was introduced to the Florida Coast and Caribbean & is now being fashioned into an eco-delicacy. Lionfish fritters and filet are now being endorsed as a novel solution by several environment groups, scientists and consumer groups to help eradicate the problem that lionfish pose to the native reef fish populations that they prey on.

Not only does it eradicate the fish in question but it also alleviates the stress off depleted ocean fish stocks.

“Humans are the most ubiquitous predators on earth,” said Dr. Philip Kramer, director of the Caribbean program for the Nature Conservancy. “Instead of eating something like shark fin soup, why not eat a species that is causing harm, and with your meal make a positive contribution?”

Experts say that while most invasive species are not commonly regarded as edible food, that is mostly a matter of marketing. Imagine menus where Asian carp substitutes for the threatened Chilean sea bass, or lionfish replaces grouper, which is a species that has excessively been fished.

Marketing these types of species is a challenge because enhancing its profile and making invasive species seem tastier is an art that culinary experts are trying to master only recently. Nonetheless all kinds of chefs are trying their hand at it from small sea-food restaurants to big celebrity chefs.

Now obviously it isn’t the only solution to the problem of invasive species but a component of it. Scientists emphasize that a comprehensive plan must include restoring fish predators to depleted habitats and erecting physical barriers to prevent further dissemination of the invaders.

This strategy too faces some hurdles, because whetting the appetites of people could lead to unforeseen problems. Marketing an invasive species could make it so popular that “individuals would raise or release the fish” where they did not already exist, potentially exacerbating the problem; tilapia were originally imported into Latin America for weed and bug control, but commercialization helped the species’ consumption for purposes not intended.

To increase culinary demand, Food and Water Watch has teamed up with the James Beard Foundation and Kerry Heffernan, the chef at the South Gate restaurant in New York City, to devise recipes using the creatures. At a recent tasting, there was Asian carp ceviche and braised lionfish filet in brown butter sauce. Lionfish, it turns out, looks hideous but tastes great.

So the next time you spot a community facing a problem posed by an invasive species, you can suggest trying to eat their way out of it. It just might work.