Food & Drink

If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em. Here are 5 invasive species Floridians are cooking up.

How to fillet a lionfish

Have you ever tasted lionfish? If not, you are missing out! The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission shares tips on how to properly fillet a lionfish.
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Have you ever tasted lionfish? If not, you are missing out! The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission shares tips on how to properly fillet a lionfish.

A statewide lionfish-catching competition, sponsored by Florida Fish and Wildlife, kicks off this month.

It runs May 19-Sept. 3. Interested parties can enter at the recreational or commercial level for a chance to win prizes.

The event is part of an effort to push back against invasive species that are upsetting Florida's native habitats.

The competition kicks off with a two-day tournament and festival in Pensacola dubbed Lionfish World Championship, where competing teams can win cash prizes for catching the most, the largest or the smallest lionfish.

The festival includes demonstrations of how to filet and prepare the fish for cooking. Participants in the tournament will also have the option to sell their catch to a seafood supplier.

Over the past few years, lionfish have started appearing on menus at restaurants throughout Florida and even at some grocers such as Whole Foods.

The effort to take a bite out of all kinds of invasives is picking up steam across the country. The website eattheinvaders.org offers listings of edible invaders and user-submitted recipes for preparing them.

The jury is still out on whether the knife and fork approach can make a substantial dent in invasive populations. That isn't stopping people from chowing down in the meantime, though.

It turns out that quite a few of the plant and animal invaders to Florida are edible. Some of the pickings are more outlandish than others.

Here are five of them that Floridians have been known to cook up.

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Two species of lionfish (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) are the first reported non-native marine fish to become established in the Atlantic Ocean, according to University of Florida. TIFFANY TOMPKINS ttompkins@bradenton.com

1. Lionfish

Once the poison spines are removed, lionfish are safe to eat. The taste is said to be buttery, like a cross between lobster and shrimp.

Feral Hog File Photo
A feral hog. Associated Press

2. Wild boar

Florida has a huge feral hog population, and they wreak destruction everywhere they go. There are dangers associated with preparing and eating their meat, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention it can be done safely.

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Water hyacinth in bloom. Agricultural Research Service

3. Water hyacinth

Deane Jordan of eattheweeds.com says that he finds water hyacinth "close in texture and taste to a mild collard green." However, some people have allergic reactions to eating the plant, and it can also absorb toxins when growing in polluted waters.

Iguana file photo
Iguanas are an increasingly common non-native species in South Florida. Kevin Wadlow Keynoter

4. Iguana

The "chicken of the trees" likely will remain relegated to South Florida, as it gets too cold for them in northern counties. Green iguanas are more of a nuisance species, but they are causing serious damage in some places, such as Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys, where they are hogging the host plant of the endangered Miami blue butterfly.

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Kudzu spreads at the rate of 150,000 acres annually. Agricultural Research Service

5. Kudzu

Kudzu was introduced from Japan to the United States at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 as an ornamental plant. The leaves, shoots and blossoms of the plant can all be consumed. Kudzu blossom jelly is one common recipe.

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The capybara is a semiaquatic rodent that is now present in Florida in small numbers. publicdomainpictures.net

Another animal that might one day make the list is the capybara, a giant semiaquatic rodent from South America. A group of the animals escaped from a wildlife research facility in 1995 and there is now a suspected breeding population in the state.

The species may give scientists the opportunity to study the process of invasion. On the other hand, Venezuelans have come to consider the critter a delicacy.

Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day in Florida will be celebrated May 19 and 20 with a tournament and festival in Pensacola and concurrent events around the state.

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