Florida officials encourage lionfish harvests

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - State wildlife officials want to permanently change rules that will make it easier to catch lionfish in Florida waters.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission discussed the rule change Wednesday.

The FWC put a temporary rule in place last August that waived the recreational fishing license requirement when targeting lionfish with pole spears, handheld nets, Hawaiian slings or other devices specifically designed for catching lionfish. This temporary rule change also removed any bag limits. Before the change, recreational anglers could not catch more than 100 pounds of lionfish without a commercial license.

Removing the waiver will make it easier to increase harvesting opportunities.

Commissioners will finalize the changes at their June meeting in Lakeland.

Lionfish have no natural reef predators and compete for food and habitat against domestic species such as grouper and snapper. The fish belong in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

According to wildlife officials, lionfish off the southeast United States, Bahamas and the Caribbean harm indigenous fish because they eat important juvenile reef species, such as grouper and snapper.

Spearing or using hand-held nets are the most effective method of removing lionfish from Florida waters.

Lionfish have venomous spines but they are edible. When properly cleaned, lionfish yield a white meat that is considered a delicacy.

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