Keys state representative files bill to ban the importation of lionfish

March 8, 2014 

Lionfish can decimate reef fish and areas where such fish live and breed.


State lawmakers and fishery managers have lionfish in their sights this spring.

Lionfish, an invasive species from the Pacific Ocean, have been targeted by Florida Legislature bills and by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission action.

State Rep. Holly Raschein, Republican from Key Largo, has filed HB Bill 1069 to ban the importation and sale of imported lionfish.

The bill moved to the House's Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee during this week's opening action of the Florida Legislature's spring session. A companion bill has been filed in the Florida Senate.

"Everybody knows about the damage lionfish are causing," Raschein said Wednesday.

Lionfish are protected by an array of venomous spines that discourage predators, and the fish has no natural predators in the Atlantic.

Lionfish breed rapidly, consume large amounts of juvenile native fish, and can survive in shallows to depths of several hundred feet. Some Caribbean islands have seen their reefs overrun by lionfish, with a consequent decline of native species.

The FWC, at its April 15-17 meeting in Tallahassee, will review proposed new rules to combat lionfish.

Already, the state has lifted requirements for a saltwater fishing license for divers who spear or net lionfish. Anglers (who still need a fishing license) can take as many lionfish as they can reel in.

A recent summit on lionfish suggested "a whole suite of options" to reduce the species numbers, said FWC spokeswoman Amanda Nalley.

New rules being forwarded to the FWC include the possibility of allowing the use of diving rebreathers to take lionfish. The no-bubble rebreathers currently are banned for spearfishing.

Other options include opening some areas of state water in the Keys where spearfishing now is banned to allow spearing for lionfish. The rule was first adopted under special action for a 2013 Key Largo lionfish derby.

Also at the FWC's April meeting, the agency board likely will hear staff recommendations on new rules for harvesting sea cucumbers, an animal invertebrate.

FWC staff earlier this year endorsed a daily limit of 200 sea cucumbers, which can only be harvested in commercial quantities by the 160 people who hold state licenses as marine-life collectors.

Operators of a sea-cucumber processing facility on Ramrod Key want a higher daily limit so their firm can market Florida sea cucumbers as food and medicine in Asia. 

The FWC board asked staff to return with possible alternatives to a 200-cucumber daily limit. Those alternatives were a work in progress this month, Nalley said.

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