What is a Lionfish?
A lionfish is a saltwater ambush predator that originates from the Indo-Pacific regions of the world. Lionfish are included in the Order Scorpaeniformes (including the Scorpion fish and Sculpins) and contain venomous spines used to ward off potential predators. They have been recorded at depths up to 1000 feet deep and in various marine and brackish environments including natural hard bottom, mangroves, sea grass beds, coral reefs, and artificial reefs (i.e shipwrecks).
Lionfish have recently invaded various parts of the U.S. and Caribbean. Their invasion has been shown to be one of the most rapid in history in terms of non-native finfish. They have been a popular aquarium fish for some time and their release into the wild by aquarium hobbyists is thought to be the most probable cause for their introduction and expansion into local waters.
The Southwest Florida Coast– A Growing Concern
Lionfish have now established populations up and down the southwest coast of Florida, including our local Collier County waters. In recent years, sightings of lionfish around Florida appear to be on the increase and data suggests that lionfish may have a negative impact to our local fish populations as well as our fisheries. They are voracious predators, feeding on various species of adult and juvenile fishes as well as various marine crustaceans. Since they are not in their native range, lionfish locally are not exposed to the same types and levels of predation that are found in their native ranges. Lionfish are also capable of tolerating varying changes in temperature and salinity and have been known to inhabit brackish mangrove habitats. Collier County has a substantial amount of healthy mangrove forests up and down various parts of the coastline. Mangrove habitats are of a particular concern since approximately 90% of the Gulf of Mexico marine fishes begin life in mangrove shelters.
Can Lionfish Be Eradicated From Our Local Waters and What Can I Do To Help?
Current reports suggest that completely eradicating lionfish from local marine waters is not likely. As of now, data has shown that some species of sharks and groupers in our local waters may consume lionfish. How regularly or readily they will consume them is not known. Killing lionfish thus far has shown to be the only real effective method of lowering lionfish populations. Lionfish “rodeos” or derbies are held throughout the State of Florida every year. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) maintain a Lionfish webpage (http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/lionfish/events/) that lists all the events related to lionfish held throughout the state.
FWC encourages the local fishing and diving communities to participate in the removal of lionfish whenever possible. These events give everyone a chance to help with our lionfish problems while having fun at the same time! Plus, lionfish have been shown to be safely consumed in the U.S. and are a flavorful fish that can be prepared many different ways. If you do choose to participate in the hunting of lionfish, please be sure to keep your SAFETY as the first and foremost priority. A link to how to safely hunt lionfish can be found here.
Tracking Lionfish Populations
Identifying when and where lionfish are found throughout the State of Florida will help researchers better understand where expanding lionfish populations may be occurring. There are a number of private and public organizations that have websites where you may report your lionfish sightings. A link to the list of some of those organizations is found at the bottom of this webpage. Collier County also maintains their own lionfish database and accepts reports of lionfish sightings as well. Everyone is encouraged to participate. Reporting your lionfish sighting is quick and easy! Simply include the required information which includes the latitude and longitude and the date of the sighting. Additional information may be entered but is not required. Please click on the following link (link) to report your lionfish sighting. Your report will be added to our interactive lionfish map. This map (LINK) shows all reported lionfish sightings found off Collier County. A photo gallery of lionfish spotted off Collier County can be found here as well. If you have any photos (underwater or topside) of lionfish taken from Collier County waters please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and with your permission we’ll get them posted in our photo gallery!
Additional Lionfish Webpage Links
The following links provide excellent information on lionfish including local fishing regulations, biology and life history, lionfish cooking recipes, reporting agencies and much more!