Edible Conservation: Eating the Enemy

Asian carp clogging Mississippi waterways. Lionfish destroying Caribbean reefs. Burmese pythons devouring the Everglades’ wildlife. Wild boars gorging on endangered sea turtle eggs.

These and other invasive species are wreaking havoc on fragile natural ecosystems.

In response, a culinary movement spearheaded by conservation groups and sustainably minded chefs is gathering steam, with a clear message: Eat the invaders.

Invasive species have debuted at novelty dinners. Last spring the Georgia chapter of the Society of Conservation Biology announced an Invasive Species Hog Roast. The Fertile Earth Foundation held a Miami gala that included smoked python and adobo-rubbed snakehead fish.

But they’re also showing up on more restaurant menus. I recently dined on grilled lionfish at Francis Coppola’s Turtle Inn resort in Belize. And at California’s Post Ranch Inn, chef John Cox served diced moon jellyfish with lemon and ginger. Miya’s Sushi in New Haven, Connecticut, has developed an expanding menu of invasives, including the Asian shore crab, one of the most destructive species on the New England coast.

Can we beat back these biological menaces that threaten the survival of native species? Some scientists think the problem is too big to eat our way out of.

Perhaps, but given the human appetite for consuming creatures to near extinction (think bluefin tuna), I think we can take a big bite out of the problem.

This piece, written by Costas Christ, first appeared in the December 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow Costas on Twitter at @costaschrist.

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  1. Jason holzworth
    February 27, 2015, 8:18 am

    There was a market for the Burmese pythons from Asian restaurants, but the mercury levels are so high in the snakes, using them as a food source was not allowed.

    So if this is the case then maybe we shouldn’t be as worried about a few snakes, but what is really destroying the Everglades and it’s ecological habitats.

  2. Costas Christ
    Washington DC
    January 17, 2015, 3:33 pm

    Jason – Thank you for your comment on my column about combating invasive species. As a former field biologist myself, of course, science needs to guide this process and we are certainly in agreement as you say in your paper, “recent interest has grown in ways to encourage the harvest and use of species as a means of controlling or eradicating invasive populations. If used properly, incentivizing and encouraging public or commercial harvest represents a significant opportunity to support ecosystem and natural resource management while simultaneously boosting economic development and environmental awareness. Eating the invaders is one good way to achieve this. Keep up the good work. – Costas

  3. Jason
    Washington, D.C.
    January 14, 2015, 3:16 pm

    Eating invasive species has potential to be a part of the solution in preventing the damage they cause. However, encouraging harvest without analyzing the effects on the species in question can make the problem worse. A colleague and I researched this issue and published our work last year in the journal Management of Biological Invasions, available for free downoad at http://www.reabic.net/journals/mbi/2014/3/MBI_2014_Pasko_Goldberg.pdf.

  4. RoseRed
    Rochester NY
    December 29, 2014, 1:32 pm

    I agree Mmmm wild boar. Especially, the giant Asian Prawn in the Gulf of Mexico. I can’t afford shrimp these days. Please catch these things and ship them north I have garlic, Olive Oil, jalepenos and hot grill waiting!