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Waging War On Lionfish Invaders

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Aren’t they beautiful? Absolutely! With their long flowing fins and bold
colorful stripes, lionfish appear graceful and beautiful to most observers. But don’t be fooled by their beauty, lionfish are no friend to Florida’s fragile reef ecosystems. Lionfish have no predators of their own and they prey on ecologically important native reef species causing dramatic reductions in species diversity. Since their unfortunate introduction to Florida waters during the late 1980’s they have spread throughout the Caribbean, up the Atlantic Coast to North Carolina and along Florida’s gulf coast to the Florida Panhandle region.

Invaders from another planet?
Not quite! Lionfish are native to the South Pacific and Indian oceans — and that’s truly where they belong. Scientists are almost certain that lionfish did not swim here on their own with the intention of destroying our reefs. As it turns out, lionfish have been flying around the world on jet airplanes for a long time so there was no need to make the long swim.

So what can be done to save the reefs? The only thing we can do in the short term is fight fire with fire. For those who are willing and able to fight (and equipped with a recreational saltwater
fishing license), this means breaking out the dive gear, nets and bayonets and charging into battle!

So what are the rules? From a fisheries management standpoint, the lionfish is an unregulated species so you can:

  • Harvest up to 100 pounds per person per day (no vessel limit) with a recreational license — and that will make for one large fish fry.
  • Use any otherwise legal recreational fishing gear including spear guns, gigs, hook and line and dip nets — no electricity,
    grenades, plastic explosives, etc!
  • Shoot first and measure later because there is no size limit.

On a serious note, if you decide to harvest lionfish, it is very important that you understand the dangers and that you follow all necessary safety precautions. Behind the veil of beautiful featherlike fins are venomous spines that can and will inflict painful wounds. Learn to properly capture and handle this species before you go! Be careful!

What’s the long term plan? While all we can do right now is “harvest baby harvest,” genetic solutions may be developed in the future that can stop their population explosion by eliminating successful reproduction. It is also possible that some of our native predatory species will eventually take up the fight and help to control these beautiful invaders.

Regulations in red are new this year.

Purple text indicates an important note.

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