Lionfish invasion is epidemic in Florida waters

Fish & Wildlife Commission holding emergency lionfish summit

By Steve Owen - Assistant News Director
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COCOA BEACH, Fla. - Florida wildlife experts are holding an emergency summit about the invasion of the venomous, non-native lionfish.

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC) is hosting the summit, which hopes to find answers to eradicating the lionfish which have no known predator.

Scientists say lionfish are becoming the most abundant predator in reef areas, and in some cases, the most abundant fish period.  Dense lionfish populations can consume more than 460,000 fish per acre per year.

They say snapper and grouper size and abundance have been affected by the lionfish. The lionfish are also a hazard for lobster trappers. Lionfish are the number one bycatch by lobster trappers and the amount of lobsters decrease when lionfish are in traps.

"There's not a single habitat type where we've not found lionfish," says Lad Akins, co-organizer of the derby and Director of Special Projects at REEF. "We believe every country in the Caribbean has been invaded." Lionfish have been spotted as far north as Rhode Island.

Atkins believes the lionfish invasion began with the aquarium trade and just multiplied.

Lionfish are the only fish known to herd their prey. They blow jets of water at them before they eat them.

Humans are the lionfish's only predator. Lionfish derbies are working to control the population. The FWC said derbies have led to 69 percent reduction in the Bahamas. Lionfish can be speared, caught in hand-held nets, or on a hook and line with no bag or size limits. 

"An effective, sustained lionfish removal program is beneficial to native fish," said Tony Fins, spokesman for the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation.

Lionfish are considered very tasty fish. There are lionfish cookbooks. But scientists warn to be careful while handling lionfish. Venom in their spines can cause a painful sting..If you get stung by a lionfish, immerse in hot water. Doctors say venom is a protein-based neurotoxin and heat breaks it down.

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