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Foe or Pho? Putting Invasive Species on the Menu

Biologist Wants People to ‘Eat the Invaders’ 

Buttered green crab legs. Eatgreencrabs/Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0
Buttered green crab legs. Eatgreencrabs/Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0

When University of Vermont conservation biologist Dr. Joe Roman is not studying invasive species, endangered species, and marine ecology, he is running a website called Eat the Invaders. Its premise is as simple as the website’s name: If invasive species, which have no natural predators, can become part of the human diet, it can decrease their numbers while feeding hungry diners. 


Roman’s website provides information for anyone interested in pigging out on wild boar or cooking up green crab or armored catfish. It offers colorful images of select invasives in the US with a brief description of each invasive, its territory and behavior, and any known history of when and how it arrived in the US. 

Roasted wild boar.  ©JIP/Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0
Roasted wild boar. ©JIP/Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

Roman is under no illusions that “invasivorism” (eating invasives) will eliminate these problems. “To be clear,” he says in a recent SciLine interview, “it’s unlikely that this type of harvest is going to result in the complete eradication of a species; we’re just not going to be able to work that hard. There’s always going to be one last animal out there.”   


But Roman and his allies do believe human consumption of invasive species can help reduce the $20 billion in damage they cause each year in the US.  


“Getting fresh-caught green crabs when they’re soft shells are easily as good as blue crabs,” Roman says “Same can be said about lionfish. It’s a firm white meat,” he adds, noting that he and others are encouraging chefs to explore using these species in dishes worldwide. 

 Lionfish.  ©Christian Mehlfuhrer/Wikimedia CC BY 2.5
Lionfish. ©Christian Mehlfuhrer/Wikimedia CC BY 2.5

There is already some proof that “eating the invaders” works, Roman notes. 

He cites studies on lionfish in the Bahamas that show that lionfish populations declined when efforts were focused on harvesting them for food. In addition, “the native fish biomass in the Bahamas increased as those [invasive] populations started to decline,” he says.  

“The key here is that eating invasives is fun, it’s delicious, it might have an impact, but it’s the last line in the sand,” Roman adds. The first line of defense is “stop the introduction of new species …  we’re not going to get anywhere if a new species comes in every year.” 


But “in the end, you know, when they’re here, and they’ve been here for a while, we can enjoy a good meal.” 



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