She’s known as the “Lionfish Huntress.” During the past decade, Rachel Bowman of Marathon, Florida, has helped spearhead the charge to eradicate invasive lionfish from the waters of the Florida Keys. Bowman is the only female commercial lionfish harvester in the Keys, and she sets out in her boat, Britney Spears, to bag as many of the venomous menaces as she can find.
“In Florida, you can spear only one grouper per day, per person,” she says. “What do you do with the rest of your day? With lionfish, there’s more opportunity and more challenge. You actually have to hunt for them and spear them. And they’re pretty badass; they can really hurt you. So there’s the element of, ‘I’m going to get you before you can get me.’”
Her largest haul came as one of the four members of Team Florida Man, which in 2019 speared 2,241 lionfish in two days in the Emerald Coast Open, the world’s largest lionfish tournament.
She has collaborated extensively with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission not only to gather valuable data about lionfish populations, but also to create a viable market for lionfish meat as part of the “conservation through consumption” movement.
“By taking lionfish out of the water, you’re doing more than eating one fish,” she says. “You’re also giving a whole lot of other creatures more of a fighting chance.”
What was your reaction the first time you saw a lionfish? It looked like a fish in a Mardi Gras costume. I grew up on my dad’s shrimping boat in North Carolina and have seen a lot of fish—flounders, red drums—that aren’t winning any beauty pageants. The lionfish looked like a fancy stegosaurus—with armor but pretty. How does lionfish taste? Lionfish is white, flaky and extremely mild, not fishy at all. You don’t need to cover it up with sauces.
Rachel Bowman’s Top Spots
Keys Fisheries: You can sit upstairs at the raw bar, eat $3 stone-crab claws, and watch the boats bringing in their fresh catch.
Sparky’s Landing Fish ’n’ Cocktails: They have the best fish tacos I’ve ever eaten.
Florida Keys Steak & Lobster House: They serve the best sushi on the Middle Keys.
Florida Yeys Aquarium Encounters: It offers awesome interactive experiences. You can get in the pool with the stingrays, and they lie on your lap.