Can US eliminate invasive species by eating them?

By Ramit Plushnick-masti

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, May 25 2014 12:09 p.m. MDT

The tiger prawn has been found in the northern Gulf of Mexico, where scientists fear it could harm the multimillion-dollar crab, shrimp and oyster markets.

Like the lionfish, this prawn has been successfully turned into gourmet food, because it is similar to shrimp, Huffman said.

Similar practicalities can affect invasive plants. The Himalayan blackberry is known for crowding out other shrubs and reducing the size of pastures. Although it is delicious, it's also thorny and requires time-consuming hand picking that makes large-scale harvesting difficult.

Feral hogs can also be tasty, but they reproduce so quickly that hunting doesn't make a dent in the population.

Jean-Philippe Gaston, chef at Haven and Cove Restaurant in Houston, started serving lionfish because he wanted to help reduce its population in the Gulf. Now the taste alone keeps it on the menu.

"It's light and airy and fluffy," said Gaston, who especially likes to use lionfish in ceviche and other raw-fish dishes because it blends well with spices and marinades. "People are scared of fishy fish. This one in particular is very mild, very easy going on the palette."

But lionfish are hard to catch, and the dwindling population means Gaston and other restaurateurs have not been able to get any for weeks.

For now, the fish are individually speared and can be sold for about $16 a pound, said David Johnson, founder and owner of Traditional Fisheries, one of the few U.S. lionfish suppliers. Yet Johnson said he can't keep up with demand, especially since many Mexican restaurants replace the crustacean with lionfish during lobster's offseason.

In fact, an event at the Texas State Aquarium had to be cancelled last month when organizers couldn't find enough lionfish for the 100-person dinner.

So Johnson, who lives in Wayzata, Minnesota, is designing a "smart trap" that would allow fishermen to catch lionfish en masse without netting other species. He hopes the traps will be in use by year's end.

"Locally, we've proven that it does work," Johnson said of the effort to turn lionfish into a delectable dish. "In Cozumel, for example, we're having trouble finding lionfish because they've fished so many."

Plushnick-Masti can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RamitMastiAP.

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