Cook-off winner turns marine pest into spicy tacos

| 28/05/2010

(CNS): Winning first place in the Local (non professional) Cooks category in the Little Cayman Sister Islands Cook-Off, Mike Vallee sliced and diced a growing pest to Cayman Islands’ reefs and served it up as an entrée, “Spicy Lionfish Tacos”. Though their spines are venomous, the Red Lionfish flesh is good eating and, like many organisation around the Caribbean trying to keep the numbers if these fish down, the Department of Environment (DoE) is promoting the fact that they can be eaten. For anyone wondering how to best to serve them, CNS has included a section in our Classifieds for Lionfish Recipes, and invites everyone to share recipes or tips.

To upload recipes, go to and click on “Post your Free Ad Here”. To start the ball rolling, head chef at the Little Cayman Beach Resort, Chef Anthony Pizzarello, has contributed three recipes: Ginger-tempura lionfish with wasabi-chili tartar sauce and sweet soy, ‘Corn-dusted lionfish BLT wrap with chipotle mayonnaise’, ‘Petite spinach salad and sherry-honey lime vinaigrette’, and ‘Caribbean tamarind glazed lionfish with tropical fruit chutney and smoked paprika basmati rice’, which can all be found in Lionfish Recipes.

The Department of Environment has been taking steps to control the rapid growth of the Red Lionfish since the first one was spotted in February 2008 in Little Cayman. Native to Pacific waters, Red Lionfish are beautiful but they are ravenous eating machines that reproduce very quickly and present a real threat to the Atlantic eco-systems, where they are increasingly prevalent.

They have no known predators in local waters – except humans, so efforts to control this invasive and destructive species include educating the public, with a series of awareness seminars (the next one is this Saturday, 29 May, at the Elmslie Memorial Church Hall, George Town) and training divers how to catch them. Because they have venomous spines which can cause painful wounds in humans, untrained divers are encouraged not to catch them themselves but to report sightings to the DoE at 949-8469, or Grand Cayman – Mark (916-4271), Little Cayman – Keith (916-7021), Cayman Brac – Robert (926-2342).

At this point, there are over 400 residents licensed to catch lionfish, and from January 2009 through April of this year these trained divers have caught over 1,500 fish around Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, DoE Research Officer Bradley Johnson told CNS. “We’re seeing an increase in the size and amount of lionfish in the water, as we expected, which is why we’re still trying to get people aware and interested in culling them.”

Because following Hurricane Paloma there were few divers in the waters of Cayman Brac, that island is the most infested, Johnson said. A small groupof residents and all the dive staff from Reef Divers are licensed to catch the lionfish but the DoE needs more help and Johnson said they would be doing more to promote the problem on the island this summer.

Because the lionfish found their way to Little Cayman and the Brac before they were seen around Grand Cayman the Sister Islands are slightly ahead in terms of size and abundance of fish, Johnson noted. “Grand Cayman has the most cullers by far and we’re always having training courses and generating interest in it." He said the Brac and Little Cayman have about 30 cullers each.

For more information about the invasive Red Lionfish, go to the DoE website.

Dates of the Lionfish Awareness meetings

The DOE Lionfish Culling Group Facebook page

Results of the Little Cayman Cook-Off

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Category: Science and Nature

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Is there anyone selling lionfish in Grand Cayman?  I would love to give it a try.  

  2. Anonymous says:

    congrats sideshow bob

  3. Colleen says:

    Congratulations Mike!! I will take lessons next time we come to visit our favourite island!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Cool!! Very Cool!  This is the sort of news I love to hear!   Many congrats to Peter, Mike and all the folks who participated in and supported the cook-off. 

  5. Environmentalist says:

    Well done Little Cayman, well done Peter, and well done DoE for recognising the problem so early on and training so many people to effectively capture them.  It isamazing how quickly these pests are invading our delicate reefs.  Beware folks, you need to know what you are doing so don’t just go out there and catch them unless you know what you are doing.  A lionfish sting is highly venomous and these creatures need to be handled with care.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Lion fish, green iguanas, bow-wow chow; seems like we’re becoming very adept at creating new  and non-traditional food sources to replace the green turtle. If that isn’t indicative of the changing culture of Cayman tell me what is!!! 

  7. TKS says:

    Congratulations!  More awareness of the invasive lionfish needs to be brought forth. 

  8. Anonymous says:

    I saw a program that said remove all fins, tail, and head. Any type of frying but do not steam. However I found a website with recipes that includes steaming. See the website info below.

  9.  BRAVO!  Congratulations to Mike.  We have been recommending lionfish be added to Cayman Brac menus ever since we had them to eat in the Bahamas.  They are delicious and would also be great for fish & chips.

  10. Anonymous says:

     Corn-dusted lion fish BLT wrap sounds mouth watering! 


  11. Anonymous says:

    would it be possible to have a similar cook off to rid ourselves of pest politicians?   

  12. Anonymous says:

    All of the food at the Little Cayman Sister Islands Cook-Off was fabulous!  It was a fantastic event. 

  13. Anonymous says:

    Seeing as the local indigenous fish are in trouble, eating the invasive species seems like a win win situation to me.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Can anyone explain how to prepare the fish?