Florida has many fascinating saltwater fish species available in a multitude of shapes, sizes and colors. One fish that anglers and divers may encounter is the lionfish. These fish are intriguing in their own right but are not native to Florida and originate from the Indo-Pacific region. These fish are predatory reef fish that use their large spines, which possess venom, to protect themselves while they lay in wait to engulf small reef fish.
Since lionfish were first reported off Florida’s Atlantic Coast in 1985, their life history has enabled them to build populations in Florida and other places along the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Their lack of major predators in these waters has allowed lionfish to increase in numbers, expand their range, and negatively alter the natural systems where they are found. Recently, a lionfish derby in the Florida Keys harvested 531 lionfish.
Divers and anglers are encouraged to remove lionfish they encounter to help control the numbers of these invasive fish. In Florida, lionfish have been documented in every coastal habitat from the shore around docks to ledges at 1,000 feet so look for these fish and be ready act as you are able. Lionfish can be speared, caught with a hand net or you may even catch one while fishing with a rod and reel. Take care that your gear does not come into contact with reefs, as it can result in damage to delicate corals. Remember, lionfish have venomous spines so care should be taken when handling these fish; stings are rarely fatal. If you are stung by a lionfish, it’s recommended to soak the sting in very hot water, and seek medical attention if necessary.
A saltwater fishing license is required to harvest lionfish and be sure to check gear, bag limit and other general regulations for their harvest at MyFWC.com/fishing. A collection datasheet is also available at MyFWC.com/reportlionfish; divers and anglers are encouraged to report any lionfish captured in the Gulf of Mexico. Removing lionfish can help Florida’s native marine fish and habitats and provide a tasty meal at the same time.
More information about lionfish may be found using the resources below.