PALM BEACH, Fla., Aug. 2 (UPI) -- Florida officials are worried lionfish, an invasive species, will decimate local reef species, and they're urging new defensive weapons: knives and forks.
With a rallying cry of "Eat It to Beat It," officials are hoping seafood lovers will join in the battle by making lionfish, a native of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, a menu item, The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post reported Monday.
A single lionfish, with its ravenous appetite and large gaping mouth, can vacuum up 80 percent of a reef's population of small fish in just weeks, wildlife experts say.
Lionfish are a favorite in the aquarium trade. Biologists think they've been released in the wild over the past two decades, triggering a population explosion.
"We saw three to five all year," dive boat captain Van Blakeman said. "In the past few months, we've seen 300 to 500. And that's from just one boat."
He says diners should consider added lionfish to their dining choices.
"They're comparable to hogfish," said Blakeman, who recently pan-fried 15 lionfish on his boat. "Very white flesh, very good, light texture."
Lionfish have no natural enemies in the Atlantic and can lay 30,000 eggs every four days.
The speed and size of this summer's invasion has shocked marine experts.
"This is an unprecedented event," said Ray Waldner, a fish biologist at Palm Beach Atlantic University. " We've never had a fish that has established itself so quickly."