New Regulations for Lionfish

By: Terry Tomalin

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Florida’s anglers and scuba divers just won another battle in the war against lionfish, an exotic species. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission made several rule changes that will make it easier to get rid of these aquatic pests.

As of Aug. 1, it will be illegal to import live lionfish. The new rules will also allow divers using a rebreather (a device that recycles air and allows divers to remain in the water for longer periods of time) and participants in approved tournaments to spear lionfish or other invasive species in areas where spearfishing is not allowed. This will be done through a permitting system.

The FWC has made a major effort in recent years to help stop the spread of lionfish. In 2013, the state hosted the first ever Lionfish Summit. The exotic creature, a native of the Pacific Ocean, was introduced into the Atlantic Ocean in the late 1980s. It's a mystery how or exactly when the first lionfish found its way into the wild, but many scientists suspect the invasive species probably got a foothold somewhere in South Florida and worked its way into the Gulf of Mexico.

In less 30 years, lionfish have worked all the way up the East Coast to the Carolinas and as far south as Brazil. The lionfish has no natural predators in this part of the world, so the venomous species has spread virtually unchecked.

There is really no way to get rid of lionfish except to visibly remove them from the reef. These fish may look pretty in an aquarium, but in the ocean, lionfish upset the natural balance on the reefs and compete for food with local species such as grouper and snapper. Divers do not have to kill every lionfish on a reef; removing just 25 percent of these invasive predators from an area can make a difference.

See or catch a lionfish? Report a sighting by downloading the new Report Florida Lionfish app on a smart device or by visiting MyFWC.com/Fishing and clicking on “Recreational Regulations” (under “Saltwater”) and then “Lionfish.”

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