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July 2022    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 48, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Lionfish Leather? Could It Be a Solution?

from the July, 2022 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

When lionfish began appearing in the Atlantic and Caribbean in the '80s, at least two had to be released to start, Dee Scarr of Bonaire reminds us. A single one cannot make babies. After a female lionfish releases her eggs - as many as 25,000 - a male fertilizes them in the open ocean.

The original Atlantic/Caribbean lionfish perhaps were dumped by an aquarist (or several) because "More than one 'pet' lionfish probably ate everything else in the tank more than once. In the sea, a boy found a girl and changed things forever," says Dee.

Necessity being the mother of invention, people have racked their brains to devise a solution for this invasive lionfish problem. The latest idea is to use them as a source of fish leather.

Fish skin is thinner than cowhide, but its fibers run crossways, making it tougher than you'd think.

Aarav Chavda, 27, and his childhood friend Roland Salatino set up the Florida-based company, Inversa, to make lionfish leather. They tan the fish hides with drying agents and dye them before selling the attractive leather to partner companies to fashion into high-end wallets, belts, and handbags. They say each hide can save up to 70,000 native reef fish, because of to the voracious appetite of the lionfish.

The hides are also more sustainable than traditional animal leathers, which generally require grazing on vast amounts of pasture - degrading soils and producing high carbon emissions.

Inversa does not hunt the lionfish itself. Instead, it relies on educating and encouraging largely poor fishers in often remote places to catch them. The company is proposing to set up fishing cooperatives in Quintana Roo, Mexico, by underwriting the fishers' risk with a 100 percent catch-to-cash guarantee for lionfish. This would finance equipment. They would offer premium incentives and prompt payment for lionfish.

Many low-income Caribbean fishers have no market for lionfish, but lionfish are destroying their reefs. This may provide an income and preserve the reefs.

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