A Tasty Problem

Washington, together with The DOE, and local restaurant Michael’s Genuine, took the fish to market by showcasing the fish at the 2011 Taste of Cayman food festival. Locals and tourists instantly embraced the dish—prepared in various ways, including a fried fish sandwich, chowder, and as ceviche, crudo, and sashimi—since then, other chefs and restaurants began serving up some unique variations of lionfish as the reefs in Cayman become one of the healthiest in the Caribbean.

“In my opinion, the Cayman Islands lead the way in the Caribbean in the effort to combat this issue,” says Thomas Tennant, overseeing chef de cuisine/special operations chef at Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink & The Genuine Hospitality Group. “We are making lionfish a local dish to boost tourism and making it a sustainable option for guests to enjoy. We have turned lionfish in to a delicacy rather than just killing them. As long as lionfish comes out of the water, it is never a waste. As a chef, we have the power to make positive and negative impacts. We influence and educate our guests to order and go to restaurants that are thoughtful in their sourcing of food. We also handle the waste of the lionfish by giving the bones to Cayman farmers to make nutrient rich compost. More than just a delicacy, we are making it a sustainable cause.”

Now Ambassador Divers has created a specialty diving program that allows tourists to get certified to cull lionfish with DoE issued spears in local waters. At the end of a one-day class, divers are issued a PADI Cayman Islands lionfish culler license. Not only can they participate in the hunt, they actually get to take their catch to a local restaurant and eat it!

Tennant admits that in the next few years, the lionfish issue will still be that … an issue.

“It will not go away permanently until a predator other than humans can recognize it as food,” he explains. “This will take years to accomplish; the fish in the Caribbean just don’t see it as food or a threat. Thankfully, chefs and marine scientists are putting this issue more in the spotlight. Just this past January at the Cayman Cookout, Jose Andres went on a culling dive with Jason and I to catch the fish and serve it at a demonstration.”

Tennant fully believes that chefs and media have the power to educate and influence supply and demand of any product, including lionfish. Leave it to the crafty chefs on the Cayman Islands to come up with a tasty and sustainable way to remove this destructively delicious fish from a body of water to the bodies of their discriminating guests.