Lionfish are one of the most beautiful fish in the ocean, and yet, they are one of the biggest aquatic problems for Florida. Native to the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, lionfish have invaded Florida waters. It is thought that this invasive species was first introduced into our waters in 1985. Aquarium releases of the fish into the wild after they dominated and overpopulated their tanks were the most likely source of the fish. Hmm I guess they didn’t take a second to think if the Florida reefs would fair the same.
Lionfish are a very colorful fish with zebra-like stripes. They are mostly red, white, and brown, and grow to approximately 12-19 inches long. Lionfish have very long pectoral fins with numerous dorsal spines that are venomous.
Lionfish are a predatory reef fish with no confirmed predators. This poses a major problem for our reefs because they practically eat everything in site, consume significantly more prey comparable to other species their size, and breed at an incredibly rapid pace. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission comments on the negative impact, “They eat native fish, which can reduce native populations and have negative effects on the overall reef habitat as they can eliminate organisms which serve important ecological roles. Lionfish also compete for food with native predatory fish such as grouper and snapper.” Even though many continue to state that there are no known predators, there have been reports of large grouper, Goliaths, sharks, and eels eating lionfish.
Targeted removals have been the focus of many groups looking to preserve the South Florida reefs. Lionfish are open year round for harvesting, with intense removal being highly encouraged. Lionfish tournaments and derbies are held regularly to lower their numbers. Additionally, removal techniques such as trap fishery are being looked into to control the spread. However, even with all these efforts and the considerable amount of research being done to eradicate them, lionfish are relentless. This is mostly due to females that can spawn every two to four days, depositing as many as 2 million eggs per year!
The public is encouraged to participate in the removal of this invasive species, by hunting and consuming as many lionfish as possible. If lionfish go unchecked, it could lead to a complete collapse of many fisheries and reefs. As a freediver and spearfisherman that frequently enjoys our beautiful waters and reefs, I feel we need to do our part to save our beautiful reefs by hunting lionfish and promoting awareness of the issue.
Remember, you can eat them just like any other fish, so harvesting them is not wasted meat. They are a tasty, white, flaky fish; just be sure to remove the venomous spines before fileting!
One final thought, if they are native to the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, what keeps them in check there, and why doesn’t it work here?