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Florida Officials Encourage Lionfish Harvests

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The Lionfish is a voracious venomous sea predator that uses its stripped spines to corner its prey and swift reflexes to snatch them up and swallow them whole. (Photo credit: KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images)

The Lionfish is a voracious venomous sea predator that uses its stripped spines to corner its prey and swift reflexes to snatch them up and swallow them whole. (Photo credit: KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images)

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/AP) — Underwater there is no denying their beauty. From their brilliant coloration to showy pectoral fins, lionfish are fascinating to watch but they’ve also caused ecological chaos in the waters off South Florida because they have no natural predators and they eat important indigenous fish.

Now, state wildlife officials want to permanently change rules that will make it easier to catch lionfish in Florida waters.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission discussed the rule change Wednesday.

The FWC put a temporary rule in place last August that waived the recreational fishing license requirement when targeting lionfish with pole spears, handheld nets, Hawaiian slings or other devices specifically designed for catching lionfish. This temporary rule change also removed any bag limits. Before the change, recreational anglers could not catch more than 100 pounds of lionfish without a commercial license.

Removing the waiver will make it easier to increase harvesting opportunities.

Commissioners will finalize the changes at their June meeting in Lakeland.

Lionfish have no natural reef predators and compete for food and habitat against domestic species such as grouper and snapper. The fish belong in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

According to wildlife officials, lionfish off the southeast United States, Bahamas and the Caribbean harm indigenous fish because they eat important juvenile reef species, such as grouper and snapper.

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.

Spearing or using hand-held nets are the most effective method of removing lionfish from Florida waters.

Lionfish have venomous spines but they are edible. When properly cleaned, lionfish yield a white meat that is considered a delicacy.

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.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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