Robots, chefs hope to bring invasive lion fish to restaurants near you

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – As it turns out, some of the best cooks in the world think lionfish, a venomous predatory fish which is breeding out of control and destroying marine ecosystems in the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, is delicious.

The chefs gathered in Bermuda on Wednesday for a competition dubbed the “Lionfish Throwdown” where they challenged one another to come up with the tastiest solution to the problem of invasive lionfish.

“Every chef likes to be sustainable in what they are doing,” said Chris Kenny, head chef on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands.

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Cubans look at a lionfish in a fish tank in Havana, on June 2, 2016. Cuba includes in its menu lionfish to combat this invasive and predatory species that threatens the balance of the Caribbean Sea. / AFP / YAMIL LAGE (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS, NV – FEBRUARY 19: A lionfish swims in a tank at Artisanal Foods on February 19, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Cubans look at a lionfish in a fish tank in Havana, on June 2, 2016. Cuba includes in its menu lionfish to combat this invasive and predatory species that threatens the balance of the Caribbean Sea. / AFP / YAMIL LAGE (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS, NV – FEBRUARY 19: A lionfish swims in a tank at Artisanal Foods on February 19, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

A dead lionfish floats in the water, as its greenish blood is seen in the background, after it was speared by Mexican dive master Martin Vera off the reefs of Cozumel February 11, 2011. Native to Indo-Pacific waters, lionfish have invaded the Caribbean because of the aquarium trade and are gobbling up native species but have no predators in the region, so their population is exploding. Picture taken February 11, 2011. To go with Reuters Life! LIONFISH-CARRIBBEAN/INVASION REUTERS/Christa Cameron. (MEXICO – Tags: ANIMALS ENVIRONMENT)

A lionfish swims in the “Chichiriviche de la Costa” beach in the state of Vargas outside Caracas July 25, 2010. Six lionfish, which are native to the Indian Ocean, were accidentally released into the Caribbean in 1992, when an aquarium in southern Florida was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew. Lionfish, which are believed to threaten native marine wildlife in Venezuela and the livelihoods of coastal towns dependent on fishing and tourism, have since been detected in at least 30 locations across the country since July 2010, triggering alarm among experts. Picture taken July 25, 2010. REUTERS/Rommel Cubas/Handout (VENEZUELA – Tags: ENVIRONMENT ANIMALS) THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS

Oscar Lasso-Alcala, a researcher at the La Salle Foundation of Natural Sciences, holds a stuffed lion fish in Caracas September 7, 2010. Six lionfish, which are native to the Indian Ocean, were accidentally released into the Caribbean in 1992, when an aquarium in southern Florida was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew. Lionfish, which are believed to threaten native marine wildlife in Venezuela and the livelihoods of coastal towns dependent on fishing and tourism, have since been detected in at least 30 locations across the country since July 2010, triggering alarm among experts. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins (VENEZUELA – Tags: ENVIRONMENT ANIMALS)

A stuffed lionfish is seen at the La Salle Foundation of Natural Sciences in Caracas September 7, 2010. Six lionfish, which are native to the Indian Ocean, were accidentally released into the Caribbean in 1992, when an aquarium in southern Florida was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew. Lionfish, which are believed to threaten native marine wildlife in Venezuela and the livelihoods of coastal towns dependent on fishing and tourism, have since been detected in at least 30 locations across the country since July 2010, triggering alarm among experts. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins (VENEZUELA – Tags: ENVIRONMENT ANIMALS)

Licensed divers catch a red lionfish on a Cayman Islands reef in this undated handout photo. More than 300 scuba divers have been certified to catch red lionfish in a race to prevent the invasive and voracious species from consuming all the young and small fish on theCayman Islands’ famous corals reefs. REUTERS/Kimberly Parker/DiveTech/Handout (CAYMAN ISLANDS – Tags: ANIMALS SOCIETY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS

A lionfish is seen on the reefs off Roatan, Honduras in this picture taken May 5, 2010. Native to Indo-Pacific waters, lionfish have invaded the Caribbean because of the aquarium trade and are gobbling up native species but have no predators in the region, so their population is exploding. Picture taken May 5, 2010. To go with Reuters Life! LIONFISH-CARIBBEAN/INVASION REUTERS/Christa Cameron (HONDURAS – Tags: ANIMALS ENVIRONMENT)

A haul of lionfish freshly speared by Mexican dive master Martin Vera on the reefs off Cozumel, Mexico, in this photo taken February 13, 2011. Native to Indo-Pacific waters, lionfish have invaded the Caribbean because of the aquarium trade and are gobbling up native species but have no predators in the region, so their population is exploding. Picture taken February 13, 2011. To go with Reuters Life! LIONFISH-CARRIBBEAN/INVASION REUTERS/Christa Cameron (MEXICO – Tags: ANIMALS ENVIRONMENT)

A dead lionfish floats in the water, as its greenish blood is seen in the background, after it was speared by Mexican dive master Martin Vera off the reefs of Cozumel February 11, 2011. Native to Indo-Pacific waters, lionfish have invaded the Caribbean because of the aquarium trade and are gobbling up native species but have no predators in the region, so their population is exploding. Picture taken February 11, 2011. To go with Reuters Life! LIONFISH-CARRIBBEAN/INVASION REUTERS/Christa Cameron. (MEXICO – Tags: ANIMALS ENVIRONMENT)

A lionfish swims in a fish tank at a pet shop in Caracas September 7, 2010. Six lionfish, which are native to the Indian Ocean, were accidentally released into the Caribbean in 1992, when an aquarium in southern Florida was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew. Lionfish, which are believed to threaten native marine wildlife in Venezuela and the livelihoods of coastal towns dependent on fishing and tourism, have since been detected in at least 30 locations across the country since July 2010, triggering alarm among experts. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins (VENEZUELA – Tags: ENVIRONMENT ANIMALS IMAGES OF THE DAY)

A stuffed lionfish is seen at the La Salle Foundation of Natural Sciences in Caracas September 7, 2010. Six lionfish, which are native to the Indian Ocean, were accidentally released into the Caribbean in 1992, when an aquarium in southern Florida was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew. Lionfish, which are believed to threaten native marine wildlife in Venezuela and the livelihoods of coastal towns dependent on fishing and tourism, have since been detected in at least 30 locations across the country since July 2010, triggering alarm among experts. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins (VENEZUELA – Tags: ENVIRONMENT ANIMALS)

Oscar Lasso-Alcala, a researcher at the La Salle Foundation of Natural Sciences, holds a stuffed lion fish in Caracas September 7, 2010. Six lionfish, which are native to the Indian Ocean, were accidentally released into the Caribbean in 1992, when an aquarium in southern Florida was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew. Lionfish, which are believed to threaten native marine wildlife in Venezuela and the livelihoods of coastal towns dependent on fishing and tourism, have since been detected in at least 30 locations across the country since July 2010, triggering alarm among experts. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins (VENEZUELA – Tags: ENVIRONMENT ANIMALS)

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“Lionfish are going to keep spreading, and it’s not going to stop unless people step in and do something about it.”

Native to the Pacific Ocean, lionfish have no natural predators in Atlantic waters and females can spawn nearly 2 million eggs per year.

“On reefs where sport divers are actively diving with harpoons to try and control the lionfish, they actually do a pretty good job,” said Colin Angle, executive chairman of iRobot Corp, a consumer robot company that builds and designs robots.

“But that’s a very small percentage of the ocean … We needed something far more flexible that could go far deeper, longer.”

Angle, who recently founded Robots In Service of the Environment (RSE), a nonprofit organization set up to protect the oceans, built a machine named the Guardian specifically designed to hunt and capture lionfish.

“We basically drive the Guardian up to the fish, position it between two electrodes, apply a current and stun the fish, knocking the fish out,” said Angle.

The device is still in its early stages of development. Its first prototype, which was unveiled earlier this week, can capture and hold about 10 fish before resurfacing.

Angle said he intends to make the robots affordable enough to entice fisherman to buy the machines in hopes that they will hunt the invasive species in greater numbers.

He also wants to turn lionfish hunting into an online sport.

“With advances in wireless technology, we can actually have an app where people pay to go hunt lionfish and capture the fish by remotely operating the robot,” he said, adding that, if robots can catch lionfish, a new market in which chefs can turn an environmental hazard into gourmet cuisine might emerge.

(Reporting by Ben Gruber in Los Angeles; Editing by Melissa Fares and Phil Berlowitz)


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