“Are you aware lionfish can be eaten?”
“If lionfish were available at market, would you buy lionfish to cook?”
These were two of several questions answered by both locals and foreigners who stopped by the TIDE booth at the Toledo Chocolate Festival Street Fair this past Saturday in Punta Gorda. The booth was the site of lionfish awareness and outreach led by TIDE’s Science Director James Foley with the support from a team of dedicated community researchers and TIDE’s Research Assistant Marty Alvarez.
Colorful displays and information about this foreign predatory fish that has invaded practically all of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef were shared to those who came out to enjoy the booths along Punta Gorda’s Front Street. In addition to providing education to the public to quash myths about lionfish (e.g. meat being poisonous to eat), the community researchers showed visitors how to safely handle and fillet them via public demonstrations. Free samples of Chocolate Stout battered lionfish were also offered to those that visited TIDE’s booth, and in return were asked to fill out questionnaires that sought to ascertain people’s knowledge and perception of lionfish and their willingness to purchase it in local markets.
Outreach activities such as the booth at this year’s Toledo Chocolate Festival have been ongoing since 2012 at similar public events such as the Placencia Lobsterfest and TIDE Weekend. This has allowed the organization to track and report on the evolution of public perceptions and willingness to buy lionfish at the local level. TIDE recognizes that the only feasible long-term management solution for controlling the lionfish population in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve (PHMR) is to create the incentive for fishers to catch them routinely. This can only happen if their market value is high enough to make it worthwhile to fishers. There is therefore a need to generate demand for lionfish meat from southern Belize, both locally and internationally.
The TIDE team would like to extend their sincerest gratitude to Belikin Beer for sponsoring the Belize Chocolate Stout that was used to prepare the tasty ‘beer battered lionfish samples’, Reef CI for providing the lionfish that was served and the dedicated team of community researchers that included Allana Barillas, Fernando Rabateau, Arielle Coleman, Willie Cal and Melvin Choc.