Saving Florida from Invasive Species –  a Three Part Series – Series 3:  Lionfish

Saving Florida from Invasive Species – a Three Part Series – Series 3: Lionfish

Lionfish have been called “The Great Invaders”. 

These “invaders” are a predatory fish and are the first exotic species to invade coral reefs. They ravenously devour over 50 different species, which is reducing native fish populations and having a negative effect on the overall reef health.  Fish that serve important functions such as those that keep algae under control on the reefs are being eliminated by these predators.  Plus other native predatory fish such as snapper and grouper find themselves competing for food with the lionfish.  According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, there are no known predators to lionfish in the Atlantic due to their venomous spikes.  This allows their numbers to grow and spread quickly.  And these lionfish reproduce faster than rabbits!  The female lionfish can reproduce year-round and releases up to 30,000 eggs every four days.  Do the math on that and it’s over 2 million eggs per ONE lionfish per year!  To put it in greater perspective, most reef fish only spawn once a year.  Thus lionfish can quickly outnumber other fish.  All of this has led the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to encourage people to remove lionfish from Florida waters whenever possible to help decrease their negative impacts. 

Lionfish have what we call “location loyalty”, which means that once they find a habitat they like, they are inclined to stay there and can reach concentrations of more than 200 adults per acre.  Once spearfishermen find these “honey holes”, they can usually fill their bags and then some.  There is no recreational or commercial harvest bag limit for lionfish.  These fish grow to more than a foot long with 18 venomous spines that are used against predators.  The sting can be quite painful to humans but is rarely fatal.  People love the taste of lionfish.  It is not poisonous or venomous.  The flesh is described as a little lighter in flavor than grouper.  To catch lionfish, you can spear them, catch them in hand-held nets or catch them on a hook and line. 

Development of lionfish control plans in the southeastern Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico is now crucial.  The ability of the reefs to resist and recover from the continued change is at considerable risk.  Humans may be the only predator that can control these fish.  Lionfish removal in Florida now offers a $5,000 bounty.  Visit the FWC website and get your license to fish these guys and earn some extra bucks.  The FWC also has a list of wholesale dealers who buy lionfish on their site and you can make about $5 or more per pound of fish.  In 2021, the Lionfish Challenge ran from May 21 through Labor Day and removed over 21,000 lionfish from Florida waters.  We humans created this mess and it’s up to us to fix it.  If the derbies can be done regularly and everyone gets out there and participates, we can suppress the lionfish populations significantly.  So, what are you waiting for?  Grab those spears and get going! And don’t forget your RealMenPrey Fillet Knife to cut those spikes off so you don’t get stuck by one!