In an ongoing effort to eradicate the invasive lionfish from Florida coastal waters the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) recently declared the first Saturday after Mother’s Day each year to be Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day. Several activities are planned for the weekend of the first annual Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day, which is May 16. Divers across the state will be encouraged to see how many lionfish can be removed from Florida waters in one weekend on May 16 and 17th.
Lionfish are an invasive species threatening Florida’s saltwater fish, wildlife and habitat. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) encourages people to remove lionfish from Florida waters to help limit negative impacts to native marine life and ecosystems.
Native to the Indo-Pacific region, there are no natural predators in Florida Keys waters to help control the invasion. These voracious eaters prey upon almost all species of local fish and invertebrates and are not only having a negative impact on local, native species but may threaten some local fish with extinction. Lionfish thrive in a wide range coastal Florida waters, from the shallow, low salinity estuaries to 1,000 foot deep reefs far offshore.
The threat is not limited to South Florida waters, by far. The Caribbean has also seen lionfish populations mushroom – and the list of derbies to remove them below includes events in the islands as well as South Florida. Lionfish (Pterois volitans and P. miles ) were apparently introduced to theSouth Florida coastal waters some 30 years ago. Though scientists can’t be certain, it’s believed likely to be an aquarium release of some sort.
Divers, anglers and snorkelers are encouraged to help eradicate lionfish ; they may be speared, caught by hand-held nets as you would a lobster or tropical fish or caught on hook and line. Not surprisingly, there is no recreational or commercial bag limit. Divers are asked to report their catches via the Report Florida Lionfish app or online at MyFWC.com/Lionfish.
Derbies with significant cash and prizes are held throughout the year in the Florida Keys and South Florida by Reef.Org. See http://www.reef.org/lionfish/derbies and http://www.reef.org/lionfish/events.
The good news: lionfish are delicious – and are now on the menu of some local restaurants – if you can’t help by removing one yourself, be sure to look for them on local menus, and help make it more profitable for commercial anglers to target this scourge. Or prepare them at home.
When cooked, lionfish fillets are firm, white and flaky with a very mild flavor diners say is similar to hogfish – a local favorite that is often tough to catch and very expensive in restaurants since it’s a rare catch. The spines of lionfish are venomous, (though the flesh is not) and care must be taken when catching, cleaning and fileting.
- Follow developments on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/REEFLionfish
- Keep track of upcoming derbies: http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/lionfish/events/.