Word is beginning to spread quickly. After years of the dreaded lionfish preying on Florida reef systems and devouring the smaller fish that make up the marine eco-system, Florida is in the process of launching a reward system for lionfish hunters. If this works, the possibilities could be infinite.
Scuba divers with a passion for saving the beauty of our marine environment are gearing up for the big day that will soon arrive. May 14, 2016, is officially going to be called “Lionfish Removal & Awareness Day” by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. On this day, the Commission is declaring a four and a half month competition in an effort to alleviate the massive number of lionfish that continue to infiltrate the Florida and Caribbean waters. It isn’t uncommon for many divers to make it a point to try and destroy any of the species that they come across on their dives, however, the species continue to multiply rather quickly. The spines that protrude from their bodies are poisonous, making it difficult for any other ocean habitat to approach them. They camouflage themselves beneath the darkness of the reef waiting to eat with no warning to their prey.
Whether you are a diver or a fisherman, the rules will be clearly defined. Bring at least 50 lionfish to state-approved check stations by September 30, 2016, and you will qualify for the new FWC Lionfish Hall of Fame. The recognition will be in the form of a posting which can be viewed at MyFWC.com. After Sept. 30, drawings will held to award prizes such as dive equipment, fuel cards and state fishing licenses. The hunter that is the most bountiful will be crowned Florida Lionfish King or Queen. The rewards will include a lifetime state fishing license and a cover photo on the FWC’s 2017 Guide to Saltwater Fishing Regulations.
Anyone certified with at least 50 harvested lionfish by late July can qualify for an allowance of one extra lobster (13 instead of 12) during this year’s Lobster Sport Season on July 27 and 28. This reward program will continue in varying capacities. In the Panhandle, a pilot program is being implemented which will reward any hunters who catch at least 100 lionfish by May 2017 with a state tag for one extra red grouper or cobia in a bag limit. The FWC board members set a maximum tag allocation of 100 on red grouper and 30 for cobia.
“Those that remove lionfish not only get rewarded for their efforts, but they also get the experience of helping manage Florida’s fisheries,” FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski said. On a more positive note, divers in the Florida Keys have been successful in greatly reducing the number of lionfish at popular Keys reefs and dive sites.
For those who are not aware, the lionfish filet is a tasty meal when prepared to your liking. This initiative may be an inventive way to create a desirable market for lionfish filets.