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Face to Face with a Lionfish at Orange Beach
By Tom Adkinson

Lionfish could be described as pretty, but they actually are evil invaders no one wants to see in American or Caribbean waters. Image by Tom Adkinson

ORANGE BEACH. Ala. – Nobody likes lionfish in the wild, but some environmentally conscious Gulf Coast chefs want everyone to start liking lionfish on a plate.

Lionfish cause heartache wherever they appear. They actually are a colorfully pretty fish, but they are an invasive super-predator species that is venomous and extraordinarily prolific. They can take over a neighborhood in short order.

They have no predators to speak of, and they will eat almost anything. With a pedigree like that, you wouldn’t expect to see one on your dinner plate, but that is changing. Divers have learned how to harvest them and avoid painful contact with their multiple spines.

Lionfish belong in the Indo-Pacific region but have been transplanted to Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and Atlantic waters, most likely by tropical fish hobbyists. Alabama marine fisheries experts are fearful that lionfish will outcompete native species such as snapper, grunts and grouper. In addition, they feast on native species such as shrimp, crabs and lobsters.

Chefs Chris Sherrill and Brody Olive are advocates for making lionfish and other nuisance species more popular on our dinner plates. Image by Courtland Richards Photography

Chef Chris Sherrill and Chef Brody Olive have been testing vacationers’ palates in Orange Beach, Ala., with lionfish and other foodstuffs that are ignored or even shunned, despite being abundant and perhaps needing to have their populations reduced.

Put wild boar and kudzu in the same category with lionfish. Yes, even kudzu, which the two chefs have used to make a syrup poured over a nice serving of flan and Sherrill has used to make pasta.

Sherrill and Olive, along with nature tourism specialist Chandra Wright, are evangelists to the Gulf Coast culinary world through the NUISANCE Group, which stands for Nuisance Underutilized Invasive Sustainable Available through Noble Culinary Endeavors.

That’s certainly a mouthful, but it’s worth asking about if you see a NUISANCE note beside a peculiar item on a menu – or more likely on a handwritten chalkboard of specials.

“We want to educate people about various species to demonstrate how invasive and nuisance species are introduced to an area, the damage they can cause and how to turn them into delicious dishes,” Sherrill said.

cooked lionfish
A cooked lionfish makes a dramatic presentation on a dinner plate. Fillets, available in some grocery stores, look more normal. Image by NUISANCE Group

Finding Sherrill and Olive’s food is easy. Sherrill is opening two restaurants this fall in Orange Beach, a lunch and dinner place called Salt and a breakfast and lunch location called the Beach Street Bistro, after working recent years at the Flora-Bama Yacht Club. Olive is the executive chef at the Perdido Beach Resort, where Voyagers is the destination restaurant.

Sherrill and Olive have teamed up for special NUISANCE-oriented dinners outside the coast’s peak tourist months. Check the monthly wine dinners at Voyagers at the Perdido Beach Resort (the first Friday of the month October-December and February-May).

As word spreads about lionfish, it is showing up at restaurants in other cities and sometimes even in grocery store seafood sections.

Trip-planning resources: and

Published July 21, 2017

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