Save the sea, eat lionfish!

Save the sea, eat lionfish!

Invasive, poisonous and seductively beautiful! This intriguing fish is like the foxy lady of tropic seas. Attractive as a fish can be, one can imagine it gliding elegantly in an ultra classy exotic aquarium, a true showstopper in any aquatic ambient. Native to Indo-Pacific it is now invading other seas like the Atlantic, and now the Mediterranean. Venomous and carnivorous, it has become the nightmare of its new habitats, threatening sea life.

Lionfish indeed looks like a lion with mane-like fins spreading like a fan.

It has distinctive maroon, orange and white stripes covering its head and body, giving the fish a bewitching and eerie aura. Because of its look, the lionfish is likened to other animals taking on many other names such as zebrafish, firefish, turkeyfish, butterfly cod, and peacock lionfish and sometimes its creepy poisonous quality is likened to a scorpion or a devil. The stingy poisonous spines threats swimmers, when hit by one, it causes extreme pain that can last for days. This is serious poisoning; the sting can cause respiratory distress and even paralysis, it can be deadly. Lionfish is hungry and greedy, devours other native fishes and crustaceans, creating threat for their existence.

The arrival of lionfish to Turkish seas is a rather recent phenomenon. This change of habitat occurred after the construction of the Suez Canal in 1869. Unfortunately, he very different ecosystems of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean were combined, and numerous Red Sea based species were transferred to this side causing what we can call a biological pollution. With the global warming and climate change, the sea temperature has increased and with warmer seawater these Red Sea species are now transferred to Turkish coasts resulting in ecosystem deterioration. The warming affects the number of invasive species and their behavior. There are a total of 790 invasive species detected in the Mediterranean until today.

Luckily now the Mediterranean Conservation Society is leading a project to promote lionfish. It sounds like an oxymoron to promote such an invasive species, but on the contrary to safeguard native life in the seas the only way is to catch and consume the invasive species as much as possible in order to keep their numbers at an agreeable level and prevent them outnumbering the native ones.

The Mediterranean Conservation Society is leading incredibly successful projects especially in Gökova and Kaş. The Society was established in İzmir in 2012 with the aim of carrying out scientific and legal studies within the scope of conservation, improvement and sustainable management of ecosystems throughout the Mediterranean basin. Part of their work is on fisheries and fisheries management, and the sustainable use of natural and cultural resources. The key figure behind several projects is Zafer Kızılkaya, the president of the society, a truly saintly person dedicated to safeguarding the sea life. He is focused with a no nonsense attitude, often prefers to remain in the shade, avoiding media attention. However, in such a case, lionfish needs a lift of promotion. Turkish people love their fish, but remain hesitant when it comes to unknown unfamiliar species. Plus, the venomous quality triggers fear, however the fish is only dangerous when still in a living state in the sea, on the contrary to its poisonous tag, it is completely safe to eat. Lionfish does not become very big as it does in the Atlantic and it is quite fiddly to clean making it hard to convince Turkish consumers to buy it. However, it is budget friendly, and quite delicious too, if people discover ways of using it in their kitchen, it may become a household hit and be part of the Turkish kitchen.

At the end of the day we need to eat lionfish and the like, as they eat up all our local fishes. We must create a market value for all the invasive varieties, in order to save our good old traditional fish tastes and dishes, this is the only way to protect our local fishes, otherwise they will be a thing of the past. So, save the sea and eat lionfish!

Fork of the Week: Fortunately, many restaurants are now featuring lionfish in their menus. One day, Kızılkaya called Kaya Demirer to explain their project on invasive species that is threatening the Turkish coastal sea life, seeking ways of making such fishes to be used by restaurants. Kaya Demirer is the president of the Turkish Restaurant and Entertainment Association (TURYID), also the owner of the upscale Frankie and Malva restaurants, and also organizes the annual GastroEconomy Summit in Istanbul that features such gastronomy-related projects, so it was a fruitful union. Now several restaurants started to feature lionfish in their menus. Malva restaurant within the premises of Susona Bodrum LXR, the new luxury range of Hilton Hotels, is one of the first. Chef Serkan Aksoy makes an incredible lionfish ceviche with Bodrum tangerines as part of the restaurant’s social responsibility project. The philosophy of Malva restaurant is to use only local products, and of course to use local freshly line-caught fish only. Totally in line with this philosophy, they began experimenting with recipes featuring lionfish to support fishermen and also to save the sea. Marinating lionfish with local fragrant tangerines was indeed a brilliant idea, delicious to the palate and good for the planet.