ContactSite MapSearchNews
Inside Sea GrantResearchExtensionEducationFundingProductsEvents

SC Sea Grant Consortium
287 Meeting Street
Charleston, SC 29401
p: 843.953.2078
f: 843.953.2080
Second Story – Fall 2013
heritage logo
Red Lionfish: A "Super-Invader" for Supper?
VOLUME 27, NUMBER 4, FALL 2013             

Red Lionfish: A "Super-Invader" for Supper?
By John H. Tibbetts                                                                       back to main story

Concerns over potential illegal lionfish sales

Lionfish (P. volitans) caught in the waters of the Carolinas, Georgia, and eastern Florida is safe to eat if properly prepared. But Steve Otwell, seafood specialist with Florida Sea Grant, is worried that someday illegal trading in lionfish could bring potentially unsafe lionfish to the region. 

Now to be clear—Otwell is not worried about lionfish venom harming consumers. Properly prepared lionfish harvested from Florida to North Carolina is safe to eat.
But U.S. consumers someday could be exposed to ciguatera toxin in lionfish harvested from certain regions in the Caribbean and sold illegally in the United States.

Ciguatera is a foodborne illness caused by eating certain reef fish whose flesh is contaminated with toxin produced by algae most commonly found in certain tropical and sub-tropical waters in the Caribbean.

Some reef-fish species, including snappers and groupers and lionfish, have been known to carry ciguatera toxin. Odorless, tasteless, and very heat-resistant, this toxin is not neutralized by conventional cooking. Ciguatera toxin can cause particular gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms that in some cases have been reported to last for weeks to months.

There are no known cases of -cigua-tera poisoning from consuming snapper-grouper species in South Carolina, Georgia, or eastern Florida. Ciguatera toxin in these waters is very rare.

But rapidly expanding recreational catches of lionfish in the Caribbean might help stimulate illegal distribution channels into U.S. seafood -markets. Unscrupulous activities could involve selling of recreational catches or misidentification for the original source or area of harvest.

Commercial fishermen and managers in the Caribbean generally know the locations of ciguatera toxin in the region and avoid those areas.

More and more recreational fishermen, however, are harvesting growing volumes of lionfish, and they could be tempted to make illegal gains through a black market.

Restaurants and other seafood outlets are required to purchase fish only from licensed vendors and distributors. But there has always been a “back door” illegal market in fish that’s very difficult to enforce.

“All of a sudden, everybody’s trying to catch lionfish,” says Otwell, “and you could have roadside vendors selling them.” The South Carolina Depart-ment of Natural Resources (SCDNR) tracks landings of marine fish caught in South Carolina for commercial purposes in the state.  

“If the system works correctly, and people abide by existing laws, all lionfish that are landed for commercial purpose in South Carolina would be tracked by our office,” says Mel Hall, director of SCDNR Office of Fisheries Management. “There have been ‘back door’ approaches to getting all sorts of fish to restaurants, but under current law these are illegal, and if uncovered can be dealt with.”

It’s possible that some lionfish could be sent north from the Caribbean as part of an illegal market that does not provide crucial information about where the fish 
comes from. 

back to main story

Last updated: 3/7/2014 10:15:37 AM
Second Story – Fall 2013


Page Tools Print this page
E-mail this page
Bookmark this page

Coastal Science Serving South Carolina
Copyright © 2001-2018 South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium
Turbulent Flow Image Courtesy of Prof. Haris J. Catrakis, University of California, Irvine
Privacy & Accessibility