Whole Foods Locations In Florida Now Selling Lionfish Meat

Whole Foods store locations in Florida now have a new food item for customers. To help preserve the underwater habitats along the coast, the company began selling lionfish “as a fresh and delicious new seafood option” on Wednesday.

The chain is selling the fish meat for $8.99 a pound through the end of May, with a price increase to $9.99 per pound starting June 1. Weighing up to 2.5 pounds, the lionfish is known for its various colors of stripes as well as 18 venomous spines. The poisonous fish can be safely eaten after the spines are removed.

“Once caught and placed on ice, the lionfish physically cannot release venom from the gland, ensuring safe consumption for shoppers,” Whole Foods stated in a press release. “The thoroughly trained team members at Whole Foods Market will receive the lionfish in-store and execute all necessary preparations for shoppers including the removal of the spines.”

Similar to halibut or grouper, the lionfish can be prepared just like any other fish. Whole Foods says the “white, buttery meat” has a mild flavor and can be used in numerous different recipes.

Corey Hawkins, a supervisor at the Boca Raton Whole Foods, has seen a definite increase in the number of customers asking for lionfish meat. The store has been busy over the past few days offering samples to interested seafood consumers.

As the species is very difficult to capture, there is no conventional supply chain for catching and shipping lionfish across the nation. According to Whole Foods, they will be caught by single divers using spears and traps designed to ensnare the fish. Until a large number is caught, the stores are unable to offer bulk-quantity orders.

“Although lionfish fillets are completely safe to eat, even dead and on ice the glands in the spines still have venom,” says David Kerstetter, assistant professor at the Halmos College of Natural Sciences & Oceanography at Nova Southeastern University. “Recreational divers and fishers should remember that the safest way to handle any dead lionfish is to simply cut off the spines altogether.”

As previously reported by the Inquisitr, the highly invasive fish are prolific breeders with an insatiable appetite and no known natural predators in the Atlantic. Native to the Pacific and Indian oceans, lionfish were first spotted off the shore of Florida in the mid-1980s and their numbers have increased significantly ever since.

Encouraging the removal of the species, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has no limit, recreational or commercial, on how many lionfish can be caught. Whole Food’s spokesman David Ventura said the stores will help the local fish conservation efforts through continued public education and involvement in eliminating lionfish from Florida waters.

The U.S. government believes the aquarium trade is responsible for the introduction of the species into the Atlantic. A Cornell University study found that lionfish cost the U.S. government over $120 billion annually to control and maintain the population.

Wildlife experts fear the venomous fish, along with other non-native species like oscars and clown knifefish, could lead to the extinction of other marine life and significantly damage the Atlantic coastal reefs. Eager to halt the continued spread of the lionfish, the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration has warned about their potential environmental impact.

“Lionfish eat herbivores and herbivores eat algae from coral reefs,” according to NOAA. “Without herbivores, algal growth goes unchecked, which can be detrimental to the health of coral reefs.”

With Whole Foods selling lionfish meat at its Florida locations, the chain is doing its part to reduce the number in the wild. According to their recent statement, the company hopes to help alleviate the severe environmental threat caused by this poisonous, yet beautiful, invader.

[Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]