This is how my thoughts go. I see lionfish, do more research, look up recipes, look at spears and poles to stab them with for purchase, look for Lionfish Derbies and so on…The brain never stops.
Many of my friends have a lot of fun to going out and shooting lionfish and then cooking them up. Every diver that I talk to tell’s themselves and anyone listening that they are doing something good to keep back the invasion of the reef dwelling alien fish. But now people have to come and tell us–for our own good–that eating lionfish might be unhealthy! Very unhealthy. Ciguatera is a nasty disorder that you definitely do not want to get. I checked and didn;t find any reposted cases as of yet but, I have heard of cases from people who’ve eaten grouper taken from Florida reefs. Now I wonder how that goes with grouper foraging on lionfish meat?
What is Ciguatera poisoning? It is caused by naturally occurring toxins, called ciguatoxins, which are produced by microscopic plants – gambierdiscus toxicus – that live on seaweed and other surfaces within coral reef communities. When fish eat seaweed or algae they consume the organisms and the ciguatoxins build up in the fish’s flesh. The toxin is stored in the fishes’ body and not excreted – so it builds up as it goes up the food chain. The bigger fish eat the little fish and the toxin gets passed on until it is consumed by humans. Predators at the top of the food chain – like barracuda and lionfish – can end up with large amounts of the toxin in their flesh. Think like mercury in Tuna. No test can be done to determine if the fish is poisoned and cooking and preparation have no affect on the toxin. The toxin is unrelated to the venom found in the spines of the Lionfish.
Ciguatoxin is the same toxin which is present in the flesh of Barracudas, large Jacks and large Snapper, which are traditionally also not eaten if caught in our waters.
Reef fish can acquire a buildup of ciguatoxins through their natural diet. If consumed by humans, they can have toxic effects such as nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, slowed heart rate, itching, burning, numbness and tingling, weakness and muscle or joint pain. Symptoms of ciguatera poisoning can appear from within hours to even a few days after consuming fish. Should you experience symptoms that might indicate ciguatera after consuming lionfish, seek a medical evaluation.
The University of Florida/IFAS St. Lucie County Cooperative Extension has received an update from Florida Sea Grant that shows that lionfish harvested in Florida’s waterways might contain toxins which cause ciguatera.The Sea Grant statement to Extension Agents says:
…the finding of the FDA is that ‘of 194 fish tested, 42 percent showed detectable levels of ciguatoxin and 26 percent were above the FDA’s illness threshold of 0.1 parts per billion.’
Despite the fact that NOAA has an ongoing program to teach people how to catch and cook lionfish, given this new information, under no circumstances should any person affiliated with Florida Sea Grant advocate consuming these fish, regardless of the location from which they are taken.
If someone tells you it is OK to eat lionfish, tell them that the latest FDA science indicates that there is a significant risk, and it is recommended that they DO NOT eat them.