Lionfish, lionfish, everywhere! In the news, on the reefs (both artificial and natural), in shallow waters and way down deep. You’d think every man, woman and child would know that lionfish are an issue by now, but it’s not so.
Many Floridians and visitors to the state have no idea that populations of invasive, non-native lionfish are expanding rapidly in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Matter of fact, more than half of the visitors to our “Be The Predator” traveling outreach and education booth are not even aware that lionfish are harming our native wildlife and habitat.
We can all do our part in helping combat the lionfish issue. After reading this article, share the news with your friends and family. Post an article about lionfish on your Facebook wall. And if you see a lionfish, remove it.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is doing its part too. This includes a series of regulatory changes that increase your ability to remove lionfish, outreach to inform the public, and incentives to increase harvest pressure. We continue to work closely with those who have a stake in the lionfish issue from fostering long-term partnerships to brainstorming with the public. Have an idea? Email it to us at Saltwater@MyFWC.com.
We pledge to continue doing what we can to make sure everyone knows about the lionfish issue and is inspired to act.
New Reef Rangers Lionfish Control Program
While the dive community is the primary line of defense against the lionfish invasion, we all have a vested interest in protecting our reef systems. For this reason, FWC is creating new and innovative ways for both divers and non-divers to get involved in lionfish control efforts.
In May 2015, FWC will unveil the new “Reef Rangers” Lionfish Control Program via a weekend-long, blowout event in Pensacola. Think of it like an Adopt-A-Highway program, but instead of cleaning up trash off a local roadway, participants will pledge to conduct regular lionfish removals from specific reefs. Not a diver? No worries, Reef Ranger dive teams will need partners like you to support lionfish removal efforts.
It is clear that that lionfish can and will repopulate a reef after a single harvesting event. Scientific studies have also shown that repeated harvesting events are the best way to keep the population of lionfish under control and protect reef ecosystems.
Reef Rangers will be the first control program in Florida that is designed to provide sustained, long-term control, and the first program designed to involve the non-diving community. On top of the good feelings a Reef Ranger will get from doing their part, they will be entered into a drawing and eligible for prizes if they submit their data via the Report Florida Lionfish app or MyFWC.com/Lionfish.
Report Those Lionfish!
Have you reported your lionfish sighting or catch on the new Report Florida Lionfish app yet? Thanks to your suggestions, the app has undergone some great transformations, including the addition of an interactive map. This map includes all lionfish reports, including photos of the fish caught, and has a reef option so you can look at all of Florida’s artificial reefs. The map is also viewable on the MyFWC.com/Lionfish website. Other new features include entry slots for largest and smallest fish caught, the ability to submit data without including a photograph and the ability to share your catch on Facebook or Twitter. When using the app, please make sure to enter the exact coordinates for the harvest location and the date you collected them. This information is vital!
Sell Those Lionfish!
Lionfish harvesters are asking if they can legally sell lionfish to defray the cost of harvest? The answer is “YES!” and the process for obtaining the required Individual Saltwater Products License is very simple. Just visit: “MyFWC.com/License” and click on “Commercial Saltwater Products” and “2014–15 Saltwater Products License Application (with instructions).” Print and complete the application form and mail to the address on the application with a check or money order for $50. The individual SPL also replaces your recreational saltwater fishing license as well as the snook and lobster permits. That’s all there is to it, just remember that this license only allows you to sell to licensed wholesale dealers. If you have any questions, just call the FWC Office of Licensing and Permitting at: 850-487-3122.
Invite the Lionfish Outreach Team to Participate in Your Event!
Have you seen the Be The Predator Lionfish Outreach and Education booth? Lionfish Outreach Coordinator Meaghan Faletti has been all over that state with the booth sharing information about lionfish. Since July 2014, the team has participated in tournaments, festivals and other public events across Florida and discussed lionfish with more than 1,200 people. Visitors to the booth learn about lionfish life history, distribution, population expansion and how our native species and ecosystems are being affected.
Visit MyFWC.com/Lionfish and click on Derbies and Events to see when the lionfish booth will be at a location near you, or request a no-cost lionfish workshop in your area by visiting MyFWC.com/Lionfish. You can also reach the Lionfish Outreach and Education team by phone at 850-487-0554.
FWC’s New Lionfish Outreach Coordinator
I remember clearly the first time I heard about the lionfish invasion. Around the water most of my life, and studying marine biology, I was not only surprised, but honestly, I was disappointed in myself for not realizing it was an issue earlier. I saw my first lionfish underwater in June 2012 in Florida Bay.
From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be on the front lines combating the invasion.
I spent my undergraduate years studying the species and assisting with research on lionfish diet. While I plan to continue researching lionfish, my work as FWC’s Lionfish Outreach Coordinator has allowed me to achieve my goal of affecting change by raising awareness about lionfish.
Today, I have the unique opportunity to travel around the state and share information about the lionfish invasion with thousands of people like you. I’m intrigued by your curiosity and amazed by how many people have not heard about the issue.
I have also had the opportunity to dive and collect lionfish with some of the most accomplished lionfish hunters and leading lionfish researchers. Learning to hunt lionfish and sharing the latest information has been an awesome experience. When you are in the water, the feeling of responsibility is overwhelming. You have the power to do something about it.
Spreading the word about the invasion is not just my job—it’s my passion, and I’m excited to be working with you.
Come see me at the FWC “Be the Predator” booth at your local events and lionfish tournaments. I’m happy to answer your lionfish questions. Happy hunting!
Regulations in red are new this year.
Purple text indicates an important note.