There maybe isn’t a more dreadful sea animal than the lionfish: It looks insane and has a venomous spine, females can lay 30,000 eggs every four days, and nobody has had any clue how to rid North American waters of the creature ever since it invaded them 30 years ago. In case this isn’t enough proof, lionfish have grown so insanely numerous that they’ve started resorting to cannibalism.
And now Whole Foods wants you to throw it in the cart next to the quinoa and almond butter. The grocery chain said as recently as 2011 that customer interest in the sometime pet was effectively zilch — so little, the company refused to even research the possibility of selling it — but Civil Eats hears from Whole Foods that shoppers can expect to see lionfish on the seafood counter in the next six months, starting on the West Coast.
Whole Foods sources seafood based partly on scores by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, a project that gives sustainability ratings to fish buyers. Seafood Watch didn’t take lionfish seriously either until 2015, after it kept getting questions from chefs, but in October the organization decided to award the species a “best choice” rating — the highest available, and good enough for Whole Foods to jump onboard. It’s unclear how the scary fish will get packaged and sold, although it’d be pretty exciting to watch a fishmonger remove the sharp spines that contain their poison. (Even better idea: It’s apparently possible to denature the spines and repurpose them as incredibly intense-looking cocktail sticks.)
It’ll be a novelty for a national grocery chain’s seafood counter regardless, but the push to envision lionfish as a tasty dinner has been going on for a while. In 2010, the NOAA started running a campaign unambiguously called “Eat Lionfish” that encouraged people to go hunt the invasive species, arguing that’s about the only effective population control they know of. Other groups have suggested lionfish as an alternative to other overfished ocean species. Either way, whether by luck or some curse, it keeps growing in number in the face of climate change, so it’s probably an option that will be around awhile.