Lionfish Are Spreading Through Florida Waters (UPDATED)

It's official.

The lionfish have arrived.

While fishing off the Naples shoreline, an angler snagged a 16-pounder last week.

The fish originally made its first appearance in the waters off the Florida Keys in 2009. Now, it appears to be spreading.

Native to the Indian and Pacific oceans, lionfish have no natural predators in Atlantic waters, so they've been able to swim worry-free off our coast, rummaging through our oceans like that guy no one ever met whom your uncle brought over for Thanksgiving last year and who ate all the stuffing. Lionfish have been eating all the lobster and preying on food that would normally go to our native fish, such as snapper and smaller fish. These little bastards eat everything. And that's killing our local ecosystem.

Lionfish are part of the scorpionfish family; have red, white, and black stripes; and have venomous spikes. Their venom isn't deadly (unless you're allergic to it), but they sting like a bitch.

Some believe that lionfish were introduced into Atlantic waters back in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew struck Miami and broke an aquarium containing the fish, releasing them into Biscayne Bay. It's also probable that owners of the fish just got tired of them and illegally released them into local waters.

They have a quick reproduction rate and spawn pretty much all-year round, which makes eradicating them no easy feat.

In an effort to get more people involved in taking out lionfish, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) announced that one no longer needs a fishing license to catch one (when wearing certain gear). People are also highly encouraged to rub the fish out, to contribute to its eradication from Florida waters.

However, FWC regulations also prohibit the taking of certain species by use of a spearing device, and that law, for some reason, extends to lionfish.

According to a study by the University of Florida, it's pretty unlikely lionfish will be completely eradicated from our waters.  But, according to Mickie Anderson, a science writer at the university, it may be "possible to keep them under control -- in specific, targeted areas and using plenty of manpower."

As for the FWC rule change: You can target lionfish while using a pole spear, a Hawaiian sling, a handheld net, or any spearing device specifically designed and marketed exclusively for lionfish. You can also bag and kill as many as you want.

UPDATED: As per an email from Amanda Nalley, FWC Marine Fisheries Division:

"It is legal to harvest lionfish using any kind of spear in Florida waters so long as you follow the spearfishing rules such as no spearfishing within 100 yards of a public swimming beach. There is a "no spearfishing" rule as well for state waters in Collier County. That extends to all species, not just lionfish. As for the not needing a license, that only extends to those using the gear you listed, but that does not mean that a licensed spearfisher cannot target lionfish. They can."

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Chris Joseph
Contact: Chris Joseph