Is In Full Swing
What can be done to minimize the impact?
Lionfish pose a significant threat to Florida’s native marine species and the ecosystem and, by the looks of it, the invasive species is not going anywhere, anytime soon. While lionfish fit nicely into the food web within their native Indo-Pacific range, that’s not the case in this part of the world. Species that control lionfish populations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans do not exist here. The lack of natural control mechanisms and the lionfish’s ability to reproduce rapidly is allowing the lionfish population to expand at an alarming pace.
It doesn’t take an economist to figure out that anything that negatively impacts Florida’s marine ecology will also negatively impact our fisheries and the overall economy of Florida. Florida’s commercial and recreational fisheries have an estimated 10 billion dollar economic value, and while no one can accurately predict future economic impacts, the stakes are far too high to simply wait for Mother Nature to address this problem.
On a more positive note, once lionfish reach a juvenile or adult stage, they generally remain at a specific location. Lionfish are also easy to identify and relatively easy to harvest. Control efforts in many locations within the invaded range (including the Florida Keys) have shown that focused and consistent lionfish removal efforts can successfully reduce lionfish numbers and limit ecological impacts. The problem is, Florida has a vast amount of suitable habitat for lionfish and it’s clear that Florida will not have the manpower or economic resources to control lionfish at all locations.
So what is being done and what should be done? Public and private entities are continuing research and monitoring efforts to track the range and distribution of the invasion. This information helps establish and support efficient and effective control programs. Public assistance by divers is imperative, and everyone can help by reporting all harvests and sightings here. On the regulatory front, the FWC has removed the daily bag limit and is allowing persons to harvest lionfish without a recreational fishing license so long as they are doing so with pole spears, Hawaiian slings, dip nets and other devices designed and marketed exclusively for lionfish. These rule changes are in effect through August 2013 and may be extended. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is issuing special permits to allow lionfish control in no harvest zones. Florida SeaGrant administers a grant program to support research efforts. Finally, the FWC is developing informational materials to get the word out about the lionfish problem and incentive programs to support and encourage lionfish removal.
Private organizations are playing a huge role by supporting research and hosting lionfish derbies to encourage removal. The Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) is also supporting research and conducting workshops to provide education and safe handling information. For further information on lionfish research, handling and control efforts please visit: Reef.org or MyFWC.com/Wildlifehabitats/Nonnatives/Marine-species/Lionfish.
Mother Nature has ways of taking care of biological invasions, but those processes take time. For now, it’s up to us to protect our important marine resources. Please get involved and help to spread the word about the invasive lionfish!
Regulations in red are new this year.
Purple text indicates an important note.