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Lionfish Safe to Eat: Researchers

Aug 01, 2014 07:21 AM EDT

The researchers at the University of Hawaii say that the idea that lionfish causes food poisoning is unfounded.

Pacific lionfish population is on the rise. Western Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico are some of the regions where this fish has gained a strong foothold. Targeted fisheries could help reduce the number of these fish. However, the fish is considered to be toxic.

The food and Drug Administration recently added lionfish Pterois volitans and Pterois miles to its ciguatera watch list. The list identifies species that contain foodbourne toxin ciguatoxin.

Ciguatera fish poisoning is a disease caused by eating reef fish that contain naturally occurring toxin called ciguatoxin.

The researchers now say that the lionfish species produces protein that mimics ciguatoxin, which could explain why these fish test positive in studies that look for this toxin.

"We already know lionfish produce bioactive compounds-just ask anyone who has ever been stung," said Christie Wilcox of the University of Hawaii. "We just don't know a whole lot about what those compounds are or whether they occur outside of the venomous spines."

The team tested muscle, skin, spine and liver tissue from invasive lionfish for the presence of venom proteins. "Lionfish express venom-like proteins throughout their bodies," she said. "We don't know exactly what these proteins are or what they're doing, but we know they're there."

The presence of the venomous proteins shouldn't deter people from eating the fish, researchers said.

"Unlike ciguatoxin, lionfish venom degrades with at room temperature, let alone with heat, so you have nothing to fear from a lionfish dinner," said Wilcox in a news release.

Wilcox maintains that the study doesn't prove that all lionfish are safe to eat. The research only shows that these invasive fish might not be more ciguatoxic than groupers or other smaller predators in an area.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has announced several measures to fight lionfish invasion in Florida. The strategies are expected to go into effect August 1, 2014. Some of the steps include a ban on the importation of all lionfish. Also, divers can now use spears to hunt lionfish.

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