Categories: NOAA

Florida Summit On Lionfish Invasion Begins Today

Lionfish. Image Credit: NOAA
COCOA BEACH, Florida – In an effort to determine research and management gaps and to bring together leaders in the lionfish issue, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is hosting a Lionfish Summit October 22-24 at the Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront hotel located at 1550 North Atlantic Avenue in Cocoa Beach, Florida.

The three-day summit is open to the public and will feature presentations from leaders in lionfish research and management, open discussions on where the gaps in research and management are, and brainstorming on the best methods to fill those gaps. The summit is being sponsored by the Guy Harvey Foundation, the Wildlife Foundation of Florida and Florida Sea Grant.

“The expansion of lionfish populations represents a serious threat to marine ecosystems in Florida,” said FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley. “Dealing with this highly invasive, nonnative species and the negative impacts on our environment and economy will require a strong cooperative effort among government agencies and affected stakeholders. All ideas are welcome in discovering new ways to help control lionfish populations, educate the public, mitigate the effects lionfish have on native species, and understand their impacts.”

Native to the Indo-Pacific region, lionfish were first spotted in Florida waters in the mid-1980s. In recent years, their numbers have increased dramatically and their population has spread throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and up the Atlantic coast of the United States. Recent research indicates they have a negative impact on our native species and habitats. Lionfish have no natural predators in our waters, and they eat and compete for food with native species, including economically important species such as snapper and grouper. Currently, the best method of control is human removal via dip-net or spear.


Lionfish Distribution
Lionfish Distribution in U.S. Credit: USGS
Lionfish were first reported off Florida’s Atlantic Coast near Dania Beach in 1985; in the 1990s four reports were made near Miami, Boca Raton and Palm Beach and one report came from Bermuda. In 2000 the species began to be recorded off the Atlantic coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, while reports from Bermuda and Florida continued. By 2005 the first report was made from the Bahamas. The species has now been regularly recorded all along the east coast of Florida, with multiple observations throughout the Florida Keys, and they are widespread in the Caribbean. Individual lionfish have been collected or were observed in the northern Gulf of Mexico off Pensacola and Apalachicola in 2010. Lionfish have been found in shallow waters to depths of 1,000 ft.

Is a license required to harvest lionfish?

A Florida recreational fishing license is not required for recreational fishers targeting lionfish while using a pole spear, a Hawaiian Sling, a handheld net or any spearing device that is specifically designed and marketed exclusively for lionfish. There is no recreational or commercial harvest bag limit for lionfish.

Are lionfish poisonous?

Lionfish are venomous. They have up to18 needle-like spines, each of which has a venom gland. The venom is used as a defense mechanism and is injected when something presses against the tip of the spine. The meat of lionfish is not poisonous.

What should I do if I am stung by a lionfish?

Lionfish should be handled carefully; they have venom glands on the dorsal, pelvic and anal spines. Lionfish venom causes painful stings.

NOAA recommends treating a puncture wound by immersing the wound area in hot (not scalding) water for 30-90 minutes and to seek medical attention as soon as possible. The Poison Help Hotline at 1-800-222-1222 is available 24 hours a day, every day.

Is it okay to eat lionfish?

It is legal to eat lionfish. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Florida Department of Health have not issued statements on eating lionfish.

Where are lionfish native?

Lionfish are native to the reefs and rocky crevices of the south Pacific and Indian Oceans, but they are now found in most warm ocean habitats throughout the world.

What do lionfish eat?

Juvenile lionfish eat mostly invertebrates, but shift their diet to fish as adults and eat reef fish. Adult lionfish spread their pectoral fins and use them to “herd” prey. This is a very effective predatory style as it is unfamiliar to native Florida fishes. They also compete for food with native predatory fish such as grouper and snapper.

Lionfish can have negative effects on the overall reef habitat as they can eliminate organisms which serve important ecological roles (e.g. herbivorous fish which keep algae in-check on the reefs).

Do lionfish have any predators in Florida waters?

Lionfish do not appear to have any predators in Florida waters, although some grouper species have been observed to eat them.

How big do lionfish get?

Lionfish can grow to 15 inches but are usually not more than a foot long. They reach full adult size at about 2 years.

How often do lionfish reproduce?

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