Former Delawareans on the hunt for funds to catch tasty, reef-harming lionfish

Former Delawareans on the hunt for funds to catch tasty, reef-harming lionfish

By Shauna McVey

spearfishing, pensacola, niuhi dive charters, lionfish, invasive species
Brian Asher, Coast Watch Alliance director of operations, smiles after a successful September lionfish hunt off the coast of Florida. Photo courtesy of Niuhi Dive Charters

New fish have started to enter the Delaware culinary market thanks to two of Delaware Surf Fishing’s favorite environmentalists, Ashley Ridout and Brian Asher. This power couple left Sussex County for the warmer waters of the Gulf Coast last April to amp up their efforts with the Coast Watch Alliance in Pensacola, Fla. Their focus? Lionfish.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) describes this brown or maroon, white-striped fish as a “carnivorous fish native to the Indo-Pacific” and “longstanding showstopper in home aquariums.” Sounds pretty. So what’s the problem? They didn’t stay in their tanks on this side of the planet and now do a lot of damage to reef ecosystems in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean waters.

That’s where you come in. Ashley and Brian, along with a team of incredible scientists/divers in Florida, actively hunt lionfish and raise funds to continue doing so.

DC dive show, coast watch alliance, lionfish, invasive species, gulf coast, pensacola, florida
Ashley Ridout, Coast Watch Alliance executive director, shows off a pretty, striped, destructive lionfish at the Baltimore/DC Dive Show in January. Photo by RIch King

Ashley, who was recently named executive director of Coast Watch Alliance, said the lionfish invasion has led to depletion of commercially important fish stocks in the Gulf of Mexico and has caused localized ecosystem collapse. In North Carolina, the Atlantic Ocean has started to experience an influx of lionfish in large quantities, and lionfish have been sighted as far north as Maine.

“Lionfish thrive in temperatures of 70 degrees and above, and will acclimate to temperatures in the mid-50s,” she said. “At the risk of sounding like a doomsday exaggerator, it’s only a matter of time before we see healthy lionfish stocks continue their path north up the East Coast.” 

Ashley and Brian are so passionate about combating these fish to limit the damage inflicted that they also finagled their way into helping to lead the annual Lionfish Awareness and Removal Day (LRAD), a festival and lionfish removal tournament held in May, and hosted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Gulf Coast Lionfish Coalition. It’s a big day for Ashley, Brian and their entire crew down south. And it’s a big day for Coast Watch Alliance.

Coast Watch Alliance is a volunteer-run non-profit founded in 2014 to “help protect our precious marine and coastal resources in the Gulf of Mexico and the Western Atlantic Ocean.”

DSF’s role

Alex Fogg, lionfish slaying champ who advises others to never pose for photos with a lionfish, is seen here posing with a lionfish .. photo by Courtney Platt

DSF’s Owner Rich King joined the fight against the lionfish invasion in the late ‘90s with his saltwater aquarium store in North Carolina. He ceased sales of the fish and educated customers about not releasing them into the wild when he learned they had become a problem in the south. He’s now an LRAD sponsor and helps run the event.

“I didn’t realize how bad the invasion in the Gulf had become until I started talking to Brian and Ashley,” he said. “From that point on, I have been helping them as much as possible with Coast Watch Alliance. I do a lot from here in Delaware to create awareness as much as possible.”

Related Articles
1 of 651

King said he’d love to see Delaware apply the lionfish invasive species removal model to our own invasive species, the blue channel catfish and northern snakehead, but that’s another story.

A healthy, tasty seafood choice

lionfish ceveche, savea reef eat lionfish, invasive species,
Milford’s easySpeak Spirits served lionfish ceviche for a limited time in January. Former Delawareans Ashley Ridout and Brian Asher are working to make the fish readily available around the country. Shauna McVey photo

Brian, the Coast Watch Alliance director of operations, said lionfish not only taste good, they’re also higher in heart-healthy Omega 3 fatty acids than many other fish, and lower in saturated fats and heavy metals, such as mercury. Many seafood consumer organizations rate lionfish as a “Best Choice” when compared to other seafood. That’s a win-win because the consumer market wants to get these fish out of water, too.

“We want to spread the message for Delawareans to consider lionfish as a viable seafood choice,” Brian said. “As a mild, white, flaky fish that takes on the flavor of spices and marinades chosen by the chef, lionfish have become a popular dish at some of the best restaurants in the country.”

easySpeak Spirits, Milford’s new restaurant and distillery owned by Zach King and Marissa Cordell, was one of the first Delaware businesses to serve lionfish. Both Zach and Marissa are also divers who want to help combat lionfish destruction, and said their customers loved the fish’s taste when it was available.

“We served lionfish to bring awareness to the area of the invasive species and how we can help save the beautiful reefs they are killing,” Zach said. 

How to taste, how to help

Lionfish is just gaining traction with individual consumers, so it’s not yet readily available outside of Florida. Coast Watch Alliance is working to change that and recommends interested consumers order lionfish online at www.normanslionfish.com/buy-lions.

To donate to the Coast Watch Alliance and help battle the lionfish invasion down south, go to www.coastwatchalliance.org and click “Donate Now.” To become a sponsor for May’s LRAD, go to www.coastwatchalliance.org/2018sponsor.

Girl Goes Local,

Shauna McVey

 

Video by Alex Fogg of an area infested with lionfish …

 

Comments are closed.