Keys Disease: The King (of the Undersea Jungle) is Dead? Tasty, Too!

Keys Disease: The King (of the Undersea Jungle) is Dead? Tasty, Too!

As we sit and bask in the afterglow of another lobster mini-season, that special time between it and the opening of regular lobster season, let’s pause for a moment and reflect on all the crawling crustaceans who gave up their lives so that we might have something tasty to dip in drawn butter. Okay. Let’s also hope that the resource was respected (one can always hope) and that things are returning to some semblance of normalcy (well, as normal as one can get in the Keys).

While we’re on the subject of diving, there are a few critical updates some of our visitors may not yet have heard. Perhaps the most critical update involves the dangerous, scary, venomous, and certainly non-native lionfish. (Cue horror music and bloodcurdling scream.) While not from around these parts, the lionfish have adapted quite well to their Keys reef surroundings, and are literally feasting on everything from our colorful tropical fish to juvenile lobster to, well, anything that will fit in its mouth. For those unfamiliar with the lionfish’s appearance, they’re not ugly – they’re a smallish striped fish with long flowing finger-like fins that make them attractive to aquarium keepers. At the end of those long finger-fins are venomous barbs that make the lionfish one of the untouchables of the undersea world. They have no local predators; not even the jewfish (okay, goliath grouper) will touch them. Even more scary, they reproduce faster than rabbits or feral cats, and have taken over other reefs in the Atlantic and Caribbean. It won’t be long before we’re totally overrun and the lionfish evolves lungs and starts stalking land-based prey and eats our pets and… okay, I made that last part up.

When the lionfish first appeared in the Keys, local environmental authorities encouraged divers to report sightings and locations. Well, there have been a lot of sightings of these coral reef carpetbaggers. Now, in a change of tactics (and I am not making this up), authorities are encouraging divers to kill any lionfish they see (at least in areas that aren’t no-take zones). You read correctly: Kill the Lionfish.

One benefit is that, again according to our local authorities, lionfish are pretty tasty with a tender white meat not unlike snapper. Many of you are probably thinking, “How can a venomous fish like the lionfish be good to eat?!” As it was explained to me by an actual speaker at an actual recent Marathon Rotary Club meeting, only the fin barbs are venomous – the lionfish flesh is both safe and tasty!

Particular care must be taken when handling and cleaning the lionfish. There are gloves the fisherman and diver can wear that are impervious to the lionfish barbs; there are also HazMat suits for fumble-fingered fish cleaners with the dropsies. Anyway, cut off the fins, peel the fish, and there be beautiful white fillets for the cutting. So I was told.

Our speaker told us that, one day, we all might find ourselves ordering the fresh-caught local lionfish special in our Keys restaurants. Well, consider this: the lionfish is sort of like a more exotic (and non-scavenger) catfish, and people love catfish. Lionfish sounds at least as appetizing as something called “orange roughy.” The Keys could certainly use a special food fish to attract visitors now that grouper season is closed for several months a year. And for the true thrill-seekers, a lionfish-toss competition could become a tradition at our local watering holes (bring your own helmets and gloves and watch for body shots).

And think of the dollars flowing into the Keys as the TDC and OFF join forces on an ad campaign touting the benefits of “Lionfish: The (Other) Other White Meat.”

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If you’re reading this on Friday, July 30th – New Year’s Eve is tonight! Tonight, New Year’s in July at the Brass Monkey, the (other) biggest party of the year! I’ll be there as your MC along with Freddie Bye and the band, and the usual cast of Monkey characters, to ring in the New Year and say goodbye to the old. If you’re reading this after Friday the 30th, and you’re disappointed because you missed the (other) biggest party of the year, worry not! We’ll celebrate President’s Day in August next month at the Brass Monkey! Happy Holidays!

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