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Florida Proposes Ban on Imporation of Lionfish

Indo-Pacific fish has wreaked havoc on Florida reef ecosystems.

By John B. Virata | April 18, 2014

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The lionfish (Pterois spp.), one of the most beautiful and deadly family of fish in the aquarium trade may soon be banned in the state of Florida, where the Indo-Pacific fish has established itself as an apex reef predator after being released into Floridian waters more than 25 years ago. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is working with the Florida state legislature on a bill that would ban the fish from the aquarium trade in the state.

"By targeting the importation of lionfish to our state, we can limit the number of new lionfish that find their way into Florida waters and, at the same time, encourage further harvest to reduce the existing invasive population," State Rep. Holly Raschein, sponsor of the House bill, said in a statement released to the media. "These fish pose a significant threat to Florida's ecosystem, and I am proud to stand in support of the proposed ban. Anything we can do to limit new lionfish introductions and further facilitate the development of a commercial market for this invasive species is a step in the right direction."

The lionfish is native to Indo-Pacific waters but is established in warm Atlantic Ocean waters.

Florida has been tackling the invasive fish since they began breeding off the coast. The fish has no known predators in Florida waters, though grouper have been known to prey on them. In June 2013, the state waived the recreational license requirement for divers to harvest the fish and also excluded the venomous fish from commercial and recreational bag limits.

The lionfish can be found as far north as Long Island, New York down into the Caribbean. Graphic courtesy NOAA.

Meanwhile in Jamaica, that country's National Environment and Planning Agency has reported a 66 percent drop in the number of invasive lionfish found in its coastal waters at depths of 75 feet. According to an AP news report, the decline has been attributed to a growing demand in lionfish fillets. The fish is selling well in Jamaican markets, the report said.

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The lionfish is one of the most beautiful fish in the aquarium trade, yet has done remarkable damage to Atlantic reef ecosystems due to the fact they have no natural predators. There are 10 species in the genus. They are native to Indo-Pacific waters and are warm water fish, though there is a species in Japan that lives in cooler waters. The most popular in the aquarium trade is Pterois volitans, or the red lionfish. The red lionfish and the common lionfish have established themsleves in the Atlantic Ocean as far north as Long Island down to the Caribbean.


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Reader Comments

Judy    Virginia Beach, VA

4/29/2014 5:21:28 PM

I was shocked and had no idea that these fish were in Atlantic waters. What a pity that they got there in the first place, but since they are not indigenous to these waters and pose a real threat to the ecosystem here, they, unfortunately, need to eradicated.
Just wondering if there was any way to trap them for resale in the hobbyist trade instead of killing them all and perhaps bringing the cost of these "exotic" fish down?

Roy    Tampa, FL

4/22/2014 7:42:30 PM

Although it is never too late, the importation ban might not have much significance in the whole process, since the lionfish has established populations throughout the Eastern US, Gulf Coast and into the Caribbean. Commercial fisheries and no bag limits are quite effective, so if you are a certified diver and would like to help join one of the many "Lionfish Roundup" events that take place all around the affected areas including some Caribbean nations. You will usually receive handling instructions, the usual t-shits and stuff, and usually a lionfish tasting and awards ceremony. If you have the money and desire you may be able to program one of your vacations around this. Information for upcoming events available all over the internet; next event Saturday May 10th 2014 off Clearwater Florida by Reef Monitoring Inc. More info at:

Dante    Hyde Park, MA

4/18/2014 5:56:49 PM

Too bad, beautiful but deadly to have around!

(Hmmm...sounds like my old girlfriend, beautiful and deadly. Did the same, banned her too from coming over.)

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