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How to fillet and clean a lionfish


Lionfish ready to be cleaned

While some people like to clip the spines off of a lionfish prior to cleaning, they can be safely filleted with the spines on as long as care is taken. Gloves can be worn for added protection although some dexterity is lost by wearing them.

Lionfish on the fillet table


The basic process of filleting a lionfish is similar to filleting most other fish, but one must be careful because even a dead lionfish can sting. The venom is stored in a sac at the base of each spine and the spines are essentially like a hypodermic needle; a long hollow tube with a sharp point on the end. It’s the end, or tip, of each spine which injects the toxin into the skin when poked. A few of the spines do not contain the toxin, however it’s best to treat each one with caution.

The most hazardous barb on the lionfish when cleaning


The above photo shows the most hazardous spine to watch out for when cleaning. This small spine is on the end of the pectoral fins and is problematic because it is much smaller than the others and it tends to poke you when sweeping the others out of the way. Watch out for this spine!

Preparing the lionfish for filleting


Watching out for the short barb, carefully lift the fin out of the way to prepare the first cut behind the gills.

Cutting the lionfish behind the gills


Cut down to the spine at an angle behind the gills and fin as shown in the picture above.

Cutting the lionfish along the dorsal fin


Carefully cut along the dorsal fin on the side from which the fillet is being removed.

Filleting the lionfish


Cut along the dorsal fins up to where the first cut was made. Extra caution should be used when cutting along the dorsal fin to ensure that your fingers don’t accidently poke the tips of the dorsal spines.

Cutting along the lionfish dorsal


Work the knife back carefully towards the lionfish tail, sliding the knife through just above the bones and below the meat.

Cutting the lionfish along the dorsal toward the tail


Once the cut has been made all the way along the lionfish dorsal the fillet can be opened up for trimming.

Cleaning the lionfish fillet off of the bone


Trim the fillet along the bones and connect the cut with the first one made behind the gills.

Laying the lionfish fillet over


Once the meat has been trimmed off of the bone the fillet can be laid over towards the tail so that the meat can be sliced off of the skin.

Trimming the lionfish fillet off of the skin


After trimming the meat off of the lionfish skin, flip the lionfish over and repeat on the other side.

Special thanks to the crew of Juliet Sailing and Diving for assistance with the pictures.