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Invasion of Lionfish


by Jerry Florida Fish Blogger

Lionfish are a non-native predatory fish whose numbers are expanding uncontrollably in the Carribean region and US coast. This voracious species has no natural predator in the West, reduces young fish populations by as much as 79% in a five week period, and bears 20,000 to 30,000 eggs every four days.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted unanimously in favor of the anti-lionfish measures.

The rules are open to further public comment until a final vote in June, commission spokeswoman Amanda Nalley said. No one spoke in opposition of the proposals.

Commissioners were in the middle of three days of meetings at the Florida Public Safety Institute in Havana, about 20 miles west of Tallahassee.

Lionfish are an invasive species from the Indian and Pacific oceans, competing with and preying upon species native to Florida waters, such as grouper, lobster and snapper.

The good news? Lionfish are good eating, with filets that taste light and somewhat buttery.

Spearfishing Lionfish and Spine Removal from Spearos Spearfishing Team on Vimeo.

Proposed rule revisions would include allowing divers to use “rebreathers” to harvest lionfish.

A rebreather is underwater scuba gear that allows a diver to breathe the same air by scrubbing exhaled carbon dioxide and adding oxygen back in, producing little to no bubbles, which scare off fish.

Using them to catch sealife is now banned in state waters.

Moreover, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission would be given authority to OK lionfish-harvesting tournaments in areas where spearfishing is prohibited.

Such permits would include the removal of other invasive and non-native species.

And a proposed new rule would prohibit the importation and sale of lionfish in Florida. Experts suspect they arrived here after someone dumped one or more out of a South Florida home aquarium about 30 years ago.

They now range the Atlantic and Caribbean, from Bermuda south to the northern coasts of South America. And each female lionfish is a prolific baby-maker, producing as many as 30,000 eggs every four to five days.

The venomous fish also are hard to catch because they hide and hunt in labyrinthine deep-water reefs.

To harvest them, commercially licensed divers usually have to spear them individually or catch them in hand-held nets.

That’s no easy feat: Each fish has 18 needle-sharp dorsal fins to defend itself against predators.

Nalley said there are more than 12,000 active “saltwater products” licenses — the commercial permits needed to catch lionfish.

Diving advocates have asked commission staff to work on exceptions to allow recreational divers to catch them as well.

Lionfish also are “by-catches,” snared by chance in traps such as lobster pots.

Current eradication efforts include a yearly lionfish derby held in Key Largo. A lionfish invasion hit the Florida Keys in 2009.