MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Underwater there is no denying their beauty.
From their brilliant coloration to showy pectoral fins, lionfish are fascinating to watch. They’ve also wrecked ecological chaos because they have no natural predators and they eat important indigenous fish such as grouper and snapper.
On Monday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced unprecedented changes to lionfish management that allows for “increased harvest opportunities,” according to a statement. In other words, they are essentially letting fishermen and divers into the water without a license to target lionfish. They believe they are the first in the country to do this.
Lionfish are non-native fish from Indo-Pacific Ocean. Just a couple of years ago, divers spotted just one of these non-native fish on a reef. Today there are thousands which can be found up and down Florida’s coast.
Lionfish are gluttonous eaters. They eat anything it can fit in its mouth and so far, there’s nothing in the ocean that eats the lionfish. They have spines that sting anything that comes in contact with them and even sharks are afraid of them.
The only thing that eats lionfish are human.
Due to that, the FWC is trying to experiment in an effort to wipe them out.
“We were hearing from folks that might be visiting from other states that may also want to take lionfish but they didn’t want to fish for other species. So we thought in addition to mobilizing our own anglers and fisherman that we could also use these visiting anglers and other folks that were just divers,” said Jessica McCawley from FWC.
The rules under this executive order:
- The license is being waived
- There is no longer a bag limit
- You can only hunt using lionfish spears and nets
- The rules for where you can spear fish still apply.
- If you catch any other kind of fish you are required to have a license.
This is a year-long experiment.
If successful, fishermen and divers may be able to catch and kill lionfish without a permit permanently.
If you decide to go after lionfish, remember to always wear puncture-resistant gloves to protect yourself from the lionfish’s venomous spines. The mane-like assemblage of spines that give the fish its lion-like appearance are tipped in poison that can cause severe pain, swelling, nausea, headaches and convulsions. However, the fish can be safely handled once the spines have been removed and many people fillet lionfish and cook them up just like any other fish.
Lionfish are said to be quite delicious. There’s even a Lionfish Cookbook which has recipes for the mild flavored fish plus tips on how to handle them without getting hurt.
A U.S. Geological Survey map dating back to 2000 shows the lionfish beginning to appear along the Eastern seaboard.
No one knows how the lionfish got here. There are a number of theories ranging to an aquarium that exploded during a hurricane to a luxurious aquatic themed hotel that incidentally leaked lionfish eggs into the Caribbean. By 2009, the entire Caribbean and Florida Keys became saturated.
South Florida fishermen removed more than 3,500 invasive lionfish from the waters off the Florida Key, South Florida, and the Bahamas in Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) sponsored derbies in 2011.