State fisheries managers recommend further efforts to fight invasive lionfish

kwadlow@keynoter.comApril 12, 2014 

Lionfish can easily -- and quickly -- decimate coral reefs.

KEYSINFONET

Scuba rebreathers and relaxed spearfishing rules should be added to the arsenal in the war against lionfish, state fishery managers will hear Wednesday.

Staff of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will urge FWC voting board members to take more steps that allow divers to kill lionfish, an invasive species seen as a clear danger to native fish populations.

"Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that lionfish will be completely eradicated from Florida waters," says a staff report. "However, localized harvest efforts have been shown to significantly reduce the densities of lionfish on shallow water reefs."

The state already has taken several steps to increase the harvest of lionfish, such as allowing divers to spear or capture lionfish without a saltwater fishing license. Anglers need a fishing license but can take as many lionfish as they want.

New rules being proposed would allow divers who use rebreathers to spear lionfish. A rebreather basically recycles a diver's oxygen.

Florida law bans the use of rebreathers -- which do not emit bubbles, making it easier to approach fish -- for all spearfishing. An exception should be made for lionfish, FWC staff says.

The agency cites Key Largo lionfish derbies as examples of how allowing the spearing of lionfish in waters normally closed to spearfishing proved to be "excellent opportunities to safely facilitate lionfish removal."

A proposed new permit would "allow event participants to use spearing gears to harvest lionfish or other approved nonnative species in areas where spearfishing is otherwise restricted."

The FWC meets Wednesday and Thursday in Havana, outside of Tallahassee.

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