If you’re a Florida native, it’s probably old news by now that invasive lionfish can be found from the coast of North Carolina all the way south to Venezuela and to depths of 1000 feet.
These fish, popular among aquarium owners for their beautiful stripes and ornate fins, can grow up to 15 inches, and are native to the Pacific waters around Southeast Asia. Over time, many have been released into the Atlantic by aquarium owners who, for a variety of reasons, no longer want to care for them.
As voracious predators, they feed on everything from tiny shrimp to larger reef fish, and often eat juveniles of commercially valuable species like groupers and snappers. They can throw off the delicate balance of our ecosystems, and because they have no natural predators in the Atlantic, may outcompete native species that consume a similar diet.
Lionfish tournaments have become a common event in our state, but do little to control their growing populations. Scientists have even tried to train sharks to eat these fish, with some localized triumphs but little potential for large-scale success. This week, Florida is taking further measures to reduce the impacts of lionfish on our local ecosystems by banning the import of these creatures statewide. The state is also loosening rules to make it easier for fishermen to harvest lionfish.
As an individual, what can you do to help reduce the impacts of lionfish in our state waters?
- Never release a lionfish into the wild (or any pet, for that matter).
- If you are properly equipped and trained, spear or net lionfish when you see them on a reef or elsewhere in the wild. Be sure that your spear or net does not impact or damage the reef. You can submit the fish to researchers for genetic analysis – click here for instructions.
- If you are unable to harvest the fish, you can report the sighting to REEF, an organization that tracks lionfish sightings.
- Explain to family and friends why invasive lionfish pose a problem to Florida’s ecosystems, and encourage them to take action as well.
For more info, visit Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's lionfish page: http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/nonnatives/marine-species/lionfish/faqs/