Florida Keys & Lionfish

April 10, 2014

The dreaded Lionfish….feared, hated, hunted and killed by scuba divers and others.  And now according to keysnews.com,  “Branded as Enemy of the Seas” by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).  We just learned that now FWC is proposing a series of Bills that would “make it easier to eradicate lionfish from Florida waters.” Probably by now most of you have heard that the Lionfish is a problem, as it’s not indigenous to the Atlantic, and therefore has no natural predators.

So far, there are places in the Atlantic where they seem to be proliferating at an unnatural rate.  Dive Centers in North Carolina report that it is not uncommon for their scuba divers diving wrecks off shore to report seeing “dozens” on a single dive.  And according to NOAA Scientist James Morris,  lionfish are “obese” from eating the local marine life in these waters.

In the Bahamas, where the first Lionfish were seen around 2005, they are plentiful on the reefs and wrecks.  Some Bahamian dive operators are actually spearing the fish while guiding divers.  

So why are Lionfish bad? According to the World Lionfish Hunters Association,  “Invasive lionfish are out-breeding, out-competing and out-living native fish stocks and other marine species. The consequences impact the food security and economies affecting over a hundred million people.” 

Lionfish in the Florida KeysAccording to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, (REEF), “Indo-pacific Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans) have been documented along the entire US East Coast from Florida through Massachusetts, east to Bermuda and south throughout the Caribbean. The expansion has been extremely rapid and exponential in scope.”

The Florida Keys have seen the arrival of the Lionfish, but perhaps not to the extent of these other places to date.  The Florida Keys has been quite active in efforts to control the invasive species.  REEF puts on a series of fishing derbies throughout Florida and the Caribbean with cash prizes for those who capture the most, largest and smallest lionfish.  Last year in Key Largo, the derby brought in 461 fish and bestowed awards of up to $1,000.   Dive operators report sightings on the reefs and wrecks so that REEF and other entities who are licensed to capture Lionfish can get to the spot and do just that.  So far, at least on the main reef areas, numbers of Lionfish are modest at best. Weather or not this situation will change is anybody’s guess. But these efforts do appear to be helping to limit the proliferation of Lionfish in Keys waters, and has been doing so for some years now, which is hopeful.  

We can say that scuba divers diving with Sea Dwellers Dive Center report very modest numbers of Lionfish on dives off Key Largo to date.  We can even go a day or two without seeing one on a dive.  We can only hope this situation is stable, and hope that the on-going efforts here at controlling these fish continue to work. Anyone interested in assisting REEF can contact them, they would love to hear from you!

Happy diving,
Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo