Florida has liberalized rules on the taking of lionfish, making it easier to harvest the invasive species.
Those who promote diving in Florida waters are pleased with the
change and say a growing number of divers are targeting the fish for
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently made
several changes in rules concerning lionfish that have started showing
up in increasing numbers in state waters.
The new rules include no fishing license required when bagging
lionfish using pole spears, hand-held nets, Hawaiian slings or other
devices specifically designed for bringing in lionfish, and there's no
recreational or commercial bag limit for lionfish for the next year.
Ramiro Palma, owner of Scubavice Diving Center in Fort Myers, couldn't be happier about the changes.
"It's about time," he said. "It is a good idea. It should help curtail the population of lionfish."
He said the loosening of rules, especially the no-license-needed,
will be an incentive for more people to go out after the prickly
In fact, Palma said, there has been an influx of divers going after the invasive critter.
"They are going after them to eat them," he said.
While the fish may not be on area restaurant menus, it can be had at eateries in the Florida Keys.
At the Lazy Days restaurant in Islamorada, about halfway between
Miami and Key West, manager Lisa Harris said lionfish is served when
available. "We get it fresh, when it is caught," she said.
"We prepare it just like any other fish," Harris said. "It is very popular."
Amanda Nalley, public information specialist, Florida Fish and
Wildlife Conservation Commission Division of Marine Fisheries
Management, said the loosening of rules does not open up spearfishing in
areas where it is off-limits, such as under bridges or within 200-yards
of a beach - or in Collier County, where spearfishing has been banned
since the 1950s.
She also said anglers using a hook and line for lionfish will need a
license and those commercially fishing for the species will need a Salt
Water Products license.
"It is pretty difficult to get them to bite, but people do commercially fish for lionfish," she said.
Some divers who encounter the lionfish often just kill the fish, cut it up, and let it sink to the ocean floor, Nalley said.
But, she said, there also have been instances where people have gone after the fish to put in a home aquarium.
Nalley said the new rules run until August 2013.
Martha Klitzkie of the Reef Environmental Education Foundation was
hopeful that the relaxed rules would prompt other states to follow suit.
"It is amazing how fast the lionfish has spread," she said. Also
helping to trim the species, REEF hosts lionfish catching derbies,
mainly for snorkle divers.
Natives of the Indo-Pacific region, lionfish are voracious predators with no natural enemies.
Nalley said the reason for the changes to Florida fishing rules were
because lionfish were becoming more prevalent. "We're seeing them more
and more and in other areas, like the Panhandle and northern waters,"
How they got here
Most likely introduced to the Western Atlantic and Caribbean through
accidental or intentional release of aquarium fish, lionfish eat huge
quantities of juvenile fish.
A single lionfish was discovered in January 2009 off Key Largo, and
the species has spread throughout the Keys. The species was first
spotted in 1985, off Florida's east coast.
Divers started seeing lionfish off Lee County in spring 2011. In
April, Chad Knight of Punta Gorda speared a 12.5-inch lionfish in 16
feet of water less than one mile off the north end of Cayo Costa, which
might be the closest to the Lee County shoreline yet recorded.
Fort Myers News-Press