TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) — 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.
That’s why a new ban on imports of lionfish into Florida has won preliminary approval from the state’s wildlife commission.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also wants to make it easier for more people to catch lionfish in the wild. Aquarium shops would also be allowed to obtain new lionfish from divers.
The changes proposed this week in Tallahassee will be considered for final approval at the commission’s June meeting in Fort Myers.
Florida lawmakers also are working on bills that would implement the ban.
The invasion of lionfish throughout the Atlantic is considered as menacing to native wildlife as the Burmese python’s incursion into Florida’s Everglades. Both invasive species have thrived far from their native habitats, and their numbers have grown largely unchecked by anything except cold temperatures.
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.