They’re the beauties with the beastly reputation—one so unwelcome that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has launched a new incentive program aimed at their eradication.
We’re talking about lionfish, those ornately designed invasives of aquarium origin that have overrun reefs throughout Florida’s coast. Exploding in numbers, lions compete with native species and upset local ecosystems.
You’d think that all the grouper, sharks, and barracuda would appreciate the additional forage, but lionfish pack a set of poisonous spines that warn would-be diners to back off.
So, that leaves humans to handle the task of eradicating these fish, or at least controlling their numbers. And that’s the idea behind the FWC’s 2016 lionfish removal program highlighted by a Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day on May 16.
Anyone removing at least 50 lionfish from Florida waters between May 14 and Sept. 30, with verification done via an FWC approved process (locations at MyFWC.com/Lionfish.) gets:
—A commemorative coin and an event T-shirt, inclusion in the FWC Lionfish Hall of Fame
—Inclusion in the FWC Lionfish Hall of Fame on the MyFWC.com website
—Entry into drawings for prizes like fishing licenses, lionfish harvesting equipment, fuel cards, and dive tank refills
Qualified participants may also be eligible for special harvest opportunities for spiny lobster and bay sea scallops, depending on season.
The angler notching the most verified lionfish removals during the contest period will be crowned Florida’s Lionfish King or Queen, an honor that includes a lifetime saltwater fishing license, a photograph on the cover of the FWC’s January 2017 saltwater regulations publication, and recognition at the agency’s November 2016 meeting.
“Innovative programs like these are a great way to generate public involvement and interest in controlling the lionfish population,” said FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski. “Those that remove lionfish not only get rewarded for their efforts, but they also get the experience of helping manage Florida’s fisheries. In addition, involving Florida’s residents and visitors helps us gather better data to continuously evaluate and improve our approach to invasive species control.”
Complementing the statewide lionfish removal contest, the FWC will hold a Panhandle Pilot Program off Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf and Franklin counties. Removing 100 lionfish from this seven-county region between May 2016 and May 2017, earns a tag that allows the angler either a legal-sized red grouper or a legal-sized cobia that is over the bag limit from state waters.
Harvest 500 or more Panhandle lionfish during this one-year period (individually or as a group) and you’ll get to name an artificial reef.
Photograph by Joel Rotunda, via Wikimedia Commons