Slickrock Adventures Eco-Resort Serves Lionfish for Breakfast in Effort to Help Save Coral Reef

By serving her guests a breakfast of the invasive, reef-destroying lionfish, the co-owner of Slickrock Adventures eco-resort off the coast of Belize joined a movement growing throughout the Caribbean to establish the fish on restaurant menus and to stimulate a commercial lionfish industry.

Last week Lucy Wallingford served her guests a breakfast of the invasive, reef-destroying lionfish. Her eco-resort off the coast of Belize, Slickrock Adventure's Adventure Island, has now joined a movement spreading throughout the Caribbean; to establish this invasive fish on restaurant menus to stimulate a commercial lionfish industry.

Lionfish first appeared in Florida, as a result of a home aquarium release. They have spread quickly and reached Glover’s Reef, where Adventure Island is located, four years ago. Because they are a Pacific fish, they have no natural predators in the Atlantic — and they eat just about everything.

Lucy bemoaned their arrival: “They're bad for the entire coral reef ecosystem, and we are out here on Glover's Reef, which is recognized as one of the most pristine reefs in the Caribbean."

Glover's Reef is so pristine that it is protected by the Belize government as an official Marine Reserve — therefore, only catch-and-release sport fishing is permitted. However, due to the negative impacts lionfish have on the reef ecosystems, the Belize Fisheries Department exempted the lionfish, so not only is catching and eating them permitted, it is actually encouraged.

"There is a growing movement," Wallingford said, "nurtured largely by organizations like The Reef Environmental Education Foundation, to create a commercial demand for lionfish. But that means getting restaurants to serve it on their menus. One day our guests and guides caught five lionfish and we thought we'd help the cause, so the next morning we served lionfish for breakfast in our kitchen palapa. Our guide Carlos Guerra who is also somewhat of a chef prepared it for us. It was fantastic, and everyone loved it."

The movement to combat the invasive species has even lead to the creation of a lionfish cookbook recently published by Reef.org. According to the book's co-authors Tricia Ferguson and Lad Akins, "That lionfish are delicious table fare with a delicate buttery flavor may be our best hope for helping to remove the fish and minimize its impacts. As Bermuda has so aptly coined, we need to 'Eat 'em to beat 'em!'"

Asked if Slickrock's eco-resort would be putting it on the regular menu from now on, Wallingford said that sport fishing is only one of nine different water sports her guests can explore during their week on the remote island.

"Though Long Caye probably has some of the best sport fishing in the entire Caribbean, it's also one of the best locations for a bunch of other water sports like sea kayaking, snorkeling, wind surfing and kite boarding," Wallingford said. "We don't tell our guests what to do — they wake up in their private cabana and get to choose between nine different water sports, each with its own palapa filled with the latest equipment and each with an expert on hand to give instruction. On that particular day, we were just lucky we had a handful that chose to go fishing and hauled in enough lionfish to make a meal. But it will probably happen again some day, and when it does, we'll again be 'eating 'em to beat 'em!'"