Florida gets tough with lionfish

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Florida has liberalized rules on the taking of lionfish, making it easier to harvest the invasive species.

Those who promote diving in Florida waters are pleased with the change and say a growing number of divers are targeting the fish for dinner.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently made several changes in rules concerning lionfish that have started showing up in increasing numbers in state waters.

The new rules include no fishing license required when bagging lionfish using pole spears, hand-held nets, Hawaiian slings or other devices specifically designed for bringing in lionfish, and there’s no recreational or commercial bag limit for lionfish for the next year.

Ramiro Palma, owner of Scubavice Diving Center in Fort Myers, couldn’t be happier about the changes.

“It’s about time,” he said. “It is a good idea. It should help curtail the population of lionfish.”

He said the loosening of rules, especially the no-license-needed, will be an incentive for more people to go out after the prickly species.

In fact, Palma said, there has been an influx of divers going after the invasive critter.

“They are going after them to eat them,” he said.

While the fish may not be on area restaurant menus, it can be had at eateries in the Florida Keys.

At the Lazy Days restaurant in Islamorada, about halfway between Miami and Key West, manager Lisa Harris said lionfish is served when available. “We get it fresh, when it is caught,” she said.

“We prepare it just like any other fish,” Harris said. “It is very popular.”

Rule changes

Amanda Nalley, public information specialist, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Division of Marine Fisheries Management, said the loosening of rules does not open up spearfishing in areas where it is off-limits, such as under bridges or within 200-yards of a beach – or in Collier County, where spearfishing has been banned since the 1950s.

She also said anglers using a hook and line for lionfish will need a license and those commercially fishing for the species will need a Salt Water Products license.

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