In the wake of President Obama’s proposed expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which willcreate the world’s largest protected marine area, more good news is coming from Florida. The state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has approved a series of new rules to help combat Florida’s invasive lionfish, which are present on both the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.
These predators, known both for their beauty and their voracious appetites, have arrived in the Atlantic and the Gulf via the ballast tanks of commercial freighters from the Pacific and Indian Oceans, although private fish tanks are also suspected as a source. An abundant food supply and no natural enemies means a thriving lionfish population now poses a threat to local wildlife.
Florida’s new regulations will aim to bring down lionfish numbers statewide. If you own a fish tank, you are now only allowed to have a lionfish if it was caught in Florida waters. It’s hoped that this will mean more lionfish taken from Florida’s waters, thus diminishing the wild population. And should a lionfish escape, as some are suspected as having done, it wouldn’t add new genetic material to the gene pool, and so would not further strengthen the species through diversity.
Second, the state will now allow divers using rebreathers to hunt for lionfish. Until now, only snorkelers and divers on traditional, open systems were allowed to hunt for lionfish. Snorkelers can only target the fish they can hit with their spear guns from the surface, or during a single-breath dive, and a diver’s exhalation bubbles often cause wildlife, including lionfish, to keep their distance, which makes them harder to spear. On a rebreather, divers will be able to go on extended hunts, and can sneak up on the fish, with no bubbles to scare them off.
Florida has also opened areas previously off-limits to spearfishing competitions, making it possible to catch more lionfish in more areas.
The new initiative follows the May launch of Report Florida Lionfish, an app designed to help watersports-inclined citizens and visitors to Florida monitor and report any lionfish spotted. Users can report on numbers, size and lionfish location; the data will help the FWC track lionfish populations and spread patterns along the state’s massive coastal area.
Report Florida Lionfish is available now on both iOS and Android app stores, and the changes to spear fishing and fish-tank regulations will go into effect on August 1st.