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NC Aquariums Declare Open Season On Lionfish

A picture of a diver near a lionfish.
John McCord
UNC Coastal Studies Institute.
The NC Aquarium encourages divers to hunt invasive, venomous lionfish.

Officials with the North Carolina Aquarium are encouraging recreational divers and spear fishermen to hunt invasive lionfish off the coast.Lionfish have no natural predators here, and they're harming bio-diversity around shipwrecks near the warm Gulf Stream waters, as opposed to wreck sites in colder water, according to Diving Safety Officer Shawn Harper. He said the comparison is like "night and day."

"You'd see far more groupers, big schools of juvenile fish, on the wrecks where there weren't many lionfish," Harper said. "And on the wrecks where there were the lionfish, the populations were far more thinned out."

Harper said the lionfish are becoming "obese" on these "islands of biodiversity," but that they make tasty human food.

"It's a soft meat," he said. "It's very mild so it picks up the flavor of however you are preparing it. A lot of people who are not even seafood people actually enjoy eating lionfish."

Harper said lionfish would be too difficult for traditional fishing operations to harvest, but he encourages recreational divers to take advantage of the Indo-Pacific delicacy.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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