In my latest Jane Austen adaptation, “No Vacancy at Mansfield Motel,” a modern Fanny Price is an aspiring marine biologist tasked with keeping tabs on a local coral reef. On one of her dives, she notices that a group of lionfish have made her precious reef their new residence.
Fanny reached on to the platform at the back of the pontoon boat and grabbed her waterproof clipboard and pencil. She dove again, ready this time with her scientist’s eye. Before she reached the reef, she was already counting the numbers of snook and sheepshead fish swimming around. She noted that a new tube sponge was growing on the far side of the reef. And there, unfortunately, were a few lionfish that had come to stay. She’d have to come back out with the spear and take care of them before they destroyed the reef.
For those of you who haven’t ever seen a lionfish, here’s a good-looking fella:
They can be a very beautiful fish and collectors frequently like them in their aquariums, but they can also be very dangerous.
See those spines on the top of his head? They contain venom that isn’t usually lethal to humans but will cause a lot of pain and crappy symptoms for a few days. For the fish that live on the coral reefs, the venom is deadly. Most fish have learned to stay away from this predator.
Lionfish are also dangerous to coral reefs because they are what’s called an “invasive species.” That is, they are not native to the east coast of the United States, so they have virtually no predators. Without predators, the lionfish are able to reproduce and take over. This can be devastating to the delicately balanced marine ecosystem.
Enter Lionfish Festivals! In recent years, local communities in South Florida (and other places along the east coast and gulf coasts) have started taking matters into their own hands. In my own hometown, we have an annual festival, a 24-hour period where individuals and teams try to catch as many lionfish as they can. There are prizes for the most fish caught, for the biggest and smallest fish caught, and even for the best lionfish dish! (Once you remove the venomous spines, the fish itself it safe to eat.)
What do you think? Would you like to hunt some lionfish? Or maybe you’d just like to read about Fanny Price? You can get your copy of the newest Holidays With Jane collection right here.