Lionfish have been invading the East Coast for more than a decade now. While it seems little can be done to stem the tide, that doesn’t mean Florida Keys residents are giving up any time soon.
Key Largo teacher and lionfish jewelry maker Lena Nyman and her husband, Adam Besteman, are doing their part.
“We started off just hunting and eating them,” Adam says. “We were just sitting talking one day and figured there’s got to be something else we can do.”
Eating them was enjoyable, but that wasn’t combatting the population spike. Adam says that even though lionfish taste good and can be prepared in various ways, larger lionfish are only good for a couple of fillets.
Lena and Adam say the fish are as beautiful as they are invasive, which sparked the idea to create jewelry from the brightly colored, yet venomous, spines. Most of their lionfish pieces are necklace pendants, but Lena recently added earrings to the line.
Both get questions from people asking about the fish.
“When people realize what it is, it’s great,” Lena says. “For some people, it takes them a bit to realize it’s real. They appreciate the story behind the pieces.”
Lena’s first pieces were given to friends as gifts. As word got out about the new local, handmade jewelry, Lena and Adam started getting requests.
Adam and Lena get many of the fish from local lionfish derbies. With hundreds of the fish caught at each derby, supply is not an issue. They team up with other groups who appreciate and rely on the ocean for their livelihoods, too.
“We work with a lot of local divers and fishermen because this is a problem that’s not just environmental, it’s economic,” Adam says. “It affects everyone because lionfish can completely wipe out species living on a reef.”
After the spines are removed from the lionfish, they are cured. Lena says curing not only removes the venom, but reveals the colors of the spines.
“You never know what you’ll get,” she says. “It’s fascinating to see how much they vary.”
Lena and Adam do not use any dyes to add or bring out color. Everything is natural and eco-friendly, which is important to the couple.
Smaller pieces take the most time, and round pendants are toughest to make, Lena says. Long, narrow pendants seem to resonate more with women, while men tend to buy more of the circular pendants.
“You almost have to pick by which one speaks to you,” Adam says. “People come and they’re drawn to one.”
Selling the jewelry is nice, but educating the public is the most important aspect of this work for Lena and Adam.
“The more we educate, the more people know about the problem,” Lena says. “When people are snorkeling or diving, they don’t realize how invasive the fish are.”
Each necklace, bracelet or pair of earrings that sells or is displayed means one more person learns about the lionfish infestation and the havoc they can wreak.
“The most important thing for me is spreading the knowledge and hoping people can use that knowledge to put us back on track—not just with lionfish, but the environment,” Adam says.
Lena echos the sentiment.
“I want folks to be aware of this invasive species and to know what a problem they are,” she says. “Love the ocean for what it is, because we aren’t on a very good route environmentally.”