Open season lionfish may become permanent in Florida

A temporary state rule declaring open season on lionfish may become permanent as a measure to keep the invasive species from becoming permanent Florida residents.

“We applaud the state for this effort. It makes it easier for people to go out and take part in lionfish removals,” said Lad Akins, special projects director at the Reef Environmental Education Foundation in Key Largo and one of the state’s most experienced lionfish catchers.

When the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meets Tuesday through Thursday in Lakeland, the state’s fishery managers are expected to take a final vote on “eliminating the requirement for a recreational fishing license when targeting the nonnative, invasive lionfish with certain [dive] gear, and not imposing recreational or commercial limits on harvesting.”

An executive order allowing divers and snorkelers to use catch bags, hand nets and spears, all without a fishing license, to catch or kill lionfish was issued last August for a one-year trial. An approval during Tuesday’s consent agenda would make the rule permanent.

“Lionfish are extremely disruptive to native ecosystems, damaging reefs by preying upon fish important to the health of corals, and preying upon and competing with commercially important reef fish,” an FWC staff report says.

Not requiring divers to have a saltwater fishing license “facilitates the removal of lionfish from the state waters off Florida.”

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