Eat the invaders: Conservation hunters

Story highlights

  • Invasive species cause over $100 billion damage each year in the U.S.
  • Invasivores are hunting and eating them to protect native species and ecosystems

(CNN)When the marine invasion started, the U.S. was taken by surprise -- and overrun.

Today, the lionfish enjoys virtually unrivaled supremacy in its ever-expanding territory from the East Coast to the Caribbean. The distinctively striped interloper from the Pacific has few predators willing to face its venomous spines, and a devastating appetite.
    Lionfish can reduce native species populations by 90% within weeks of arrival, decimating many useful species such as fish that feed on coral-damaging algae. They consume enough to become obese, and even resort to cannibalism.
      These voracious predators are spreading rapidly -- female lionfish release two million eggs a year -- leaving conservationists with an uphill struggle to contain their numbers and preserve threatened ecosystems.

      Taking the fight to the dinner table

      In Florida, where lionfish have massively disrupted the fishing industry, locals are fighting back by eating them.
      The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has led a campaign to put lionfish on menus, encouraging fishermen and traders to participate. Environmental group Reef organizes lionfish derbies to catch as many as possible, and has released a lionfish recipe book.
      REEF lionfish derby in Florida
      Dozens of local restaurants have begun serving the new arrival in the form of ceviche and sushi among other dishes, although demand has yet to match supply.
      Conservation biologist Joe Roman believes this approach can make a difference.
      "We have seen some impact and evidence of populations declining," says Roman, citing the example of Cuba where the government have encouraged the harvesting of lionfish.
      Since 2003, Roman has helped to pioneer the "invasivore" movement through his popular website 'Eat the invaders,' offering information and recipes to help offset the disastrous impact of i