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Weed Salads And Lionfish Sushi: Could An Invasivore Diet Help Wildlife?

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Rachael Funnell

Social Editor and Staff Writer

clockJan 14 2022, 15:29 UTC
invasivore diet

You gotta eat 'em to beat 'em, say invasivores – and destructive lionfish make good sushi. Image credit: Kjeld Friis / Shutterstock.com

Much of conservation centers around helping things we have too few of, but what’s to be done for the species of which there are far too many? Invasive species have a nasty habit of proliferating beyond belief as they dominate environments in which they might not have any natural predators. As they multiply, the space for native species diminishes, pushing animals to extinction and destabilizing ecosystems that may have endured for thousands of years.

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Everything from hunting to novelty lingerie and introducing more invasive species (to catastrophic effect) has been employed as a means to getting rid of alien species, but is there a more economical way to support ecological systems? The “invasivore diet” was first suggested by conservation biologist Joe Roman in the early 2000s, says Popular Science, and is an approach that aims to encourage humans to eat their way out of problems they created.

It’s worth noting that invasive species, often demonized and maligned by lovers of native nature, aren’t at fault here. Possums are an unwelcome resident of New Zealand where, after being introduced several times to establish a fur trade as early as 1837, they have decimated populations of ground nesting birds (one even held a woman "hostage"). However, these possums are just doing what possums do best without an awareness as to the effect they’re having on the ecosystem.

That said, if the natural order is to be preserved it falls to humans to undo the damage done by introductions we facilitated. Removing prolific species from the environment is, however, expensive both in time and money spent, so how can we get a jog on?

invasivore diet
Possums didn't ask to be brought to New Zealand, but their presence has devastated native wildlife. Image credit: Lowell Hendrix / Shutterstock.com

One way is to commodify the offending species by turning it from an unwelcome guest into a culinary delicacy. It’s an approach that’s already been employed with the invasive European weed garlic mustards, which is said to add a peppery bite to salad dressings.

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Similarly, sushi chefs have turned their craft to incorporate the highly invasive lionfish. Native to the Indo-Pacific, lionfish have exploded in the Atlantic as an invasive species and are now established along the US coast, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. It’s suspected their invasion was the result of being dumped in the ocean as unwanted home aquarium pets for decades.

With few predators and a hearty appetite in their newfound home, the invasive lionfish population is thriving, which is bad news for the delicate balance of the ecosystem. However, their proliferation makes them a sustainable food source in place of other – more traditionally fished, but threatened – species, with the added benefit of returning the environment to its healthier state the more you fish.

The idea garnered such support that scientists even got to work innovating an autonomous fishing hoover that could effectively potter about the ocean sucking up any lionfish it came across. For ichthyophiles and animal lovers alike, the concept might not be a comfortable one but in a world where fishing is already taking place, it seems logical to target the most prolific and problematic species.

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Roman has since launched a website – Eat The Invaders – which hopes to inspire others to monopolise on the invasive in their area with resourceful recipes submitted by visitors to the site.

“Invaders – we didn’t stop them at the gates,” it reads. “Can we stop them at our plates?”

Bone apple tea.

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[H/T: Popular Science]


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