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From reef to plate – Belize combats the lionfish

LoinfishAbout 40 years ago, the state of Florida accidentally introduced a voracious predator to the Atlantic Ocean waters: the Lionfish. And so it came to pass that the Caribbean and Belize wound up right in the middle of a Lionfish invasion.

What’s a nation dependent upon aquatic resources to do in light of this scary threat? Apply some good, old-fashioned Belize innovation to the problem: the Belize fishing industry declared war on Lionfish and decided to “repurpose” these prolific intruders by turning the species into both a sporting activity and a food source.

These days, you can come to Belize specifically to participate in Lionfish hunting expeditions that offers the opportunity to use a spear rather than a rod or cages, to snare these creatures. That said, restrictions associated with catching Lionfish are stringent: Both individuals and fisheries must obtain a special license because it’s illegal to use a spear in certain areas off Belize or while scuba diving.

For that reason, if you have an interest in pursuing this exotic sport, you’ll need an experienced tour guide arranged by staff at Chabil Mar, but once you’re set you’re in for the fishing experience of a lifetime. Have fun. Set a catch record. Pat yourself on the back because you will have helped the Belize fishing industry cull the Lionfish population.

LIONFISH – Belize from OCEANAbz on Vimeo.

There’s another benefit to be had if you book a Lionfish expedition: you could also help Belize’s movement to substitute Lionfish for a dwindling Conch catch that has diminished of late. Conch has traditionally been a popular dish, but despite stringent marine laws, supplies are becoming difficult to obtain. When it is caught, Conch flesh must weigh at least three ounces to be used in dishes served by restaurants like Café Mar, the on-site Chabil Mar eatery.

The future of Conch is already a concern for restauranteurs, but if Lionfish can be substituted, the Conch catch might even recover from its current dilemma. That would be great news for the Placencia Producers’ Cooperative Society Ltd. As the nation’s first national fishing cooperative, they have oversight on both catches. Thanks to their efforts, Lionfish is now processed locally and the crustacean has even received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, so it’s being shipped to the U.S., where it’s gaining quite the reputation for flavor and texture.

But nobody cooks Lionfish like Belize resort chefs thrilled to have a new menu item, so whether you visit Belize to catch Lionfish or you’re just interested in tasting the dish Chabil Mar-style, during your Belize vacation, you can’t go wrong by ordering Ceviche made with Lionfish. And if Conch’s also on the menu when you’re here, make the Ceviche your appetizer and follow it up with house specialties like conch fritters.

By the way, if you book a Lionfish outing, you can even catch your own dinner with the “You Catch It, We Cook It” service from the Chefs at Café Mar . . . and they know the ins and outs of preparing a Lionfish! It’s unlike anything you’ve ever tasted.

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