Perverse Incentive Jujitsu
Lionfish are an invasive species. The solution? Eat them, say some:
Sustainable-seafood advocates typically advise consumers to stay away from overfished, endangered species, but in this case they’re taking the opposite tack. Federal officials have joined with chefs, spear fishermen and seafood distributors to launch a bold campaign: Eat lionfish until it no longer exists outside its native habitat.
It would be great if this worked. But if you create a demand for lionfish among gourmet diners — the ones who’d shell out $24 a pound for the stuff — people might just start farming and protecting the damn things, which would inevitably escape from the fish farms. Or people might go to the lionfish’s native habitat, where they are presumably common, too, and hunt them to extinction there, even as they proliferate everywhere else.
This is not to say, of course, that any particular overfished species is in the clear, and that the magic of the market — how I hate that phrase — will save them. It could well be that the stable equilibrium we’re headed toward is a unitary ecosystem, in which only a smattering of not particularly interesting animals and plants overrun everything else, punctuated by farm-maintained populations of the commercially valuable ones, as dictated by mid-21st century tastes. This would be a depressing outcome.
But the point is simply that I’m not confident either way — whether we can eat the lionfish to death, or whether our appetite for tuna can save the bluefin. It strikes me as hubris to make a prediction either way.