Lionfish 2014 Management Changes FAQs

What are lionfish and why are they a problem?

Lionfish are invasive species native to the Indo-Pacific region that compete with and prey upon fish and invertebrates, negatively impacting native species and ecosystems. Lionfish are found throughout Florida waters, ranging from shallow, low salinity estuaries to offshore reefs 1,000 feet deep.

What is the intent of the changes?

To curtail the introduction of new lionfish and facilitate removal and localized population control by:

  • Prohibiting import of live lionfish
  • Allowing divers using rebreathers to spear lionfish (currently, you cannot harvest fish while diving with a rebreather)
  • Allowing participants of approved tournaments and other organized events to spear lionfish or other invasive species in areas where spearfishing is not currently allowed (such as certain state parks). This will be done through a permitting system.

Why are you prohibiting the importation of live lionfish?

Live lionfish historically have been imported into the state for use in aquariums. Prohibiting importation of lionfish for this purpose will likely prevent the introduction of new lionfish species and/or additional genetic strains into Florida waters. New lionfish species or genetic strains could add to the genetic diversity of the species and increase their resilience. These changes also act as an incentive to collect and remove lionfish from Florida waters.

Can lionfish be caught in state and federal waters off Florida and sold live in the aquarium trade?

Yes. Lionfish caught in both state and federal waters off Florida can be landed in Florida and sold live in the aquarium trade. All commercial harvest and sale of lionfish requires a Saltwater Products license (SPL).

What species are being prohibited from import?

All 10 species of the genus Pterois are prohibited from live import.   

Why do the proposed changes apply to all species in the genus Pterois, instead of only the two (P. volitans and P. miles) involved in the current invasion?

The successful invasion of lionfish may indicate that other closely related species would also be able to survive and reproduce in the waters off Florida. Prohibiting importation of the species in genus Pterois, which are most closely related to the lionfish already found in Florida waters, will lessen the likelihood of additional ecosystem damage by potential future invasions.

Why does FWC want to continue allowing live harvest of lionfish off the coast of Florida?

Lionfish are commonly displayed in public and private aquariums. Traditionally, lionfish have been imported into the U.S. from their native range. Also, collectors for the aquarium trade often target small and juvenile lionfish that are likely to be ignored by harvesters of food fish. Eliminating lionfish importation while continuing to allow live harvest from Florida waters may increase removal of the species, including juveniles.

Is the lionfish in my tank now illegal?

No. It is illegal to import lionfish into the state or to sell imported lionfish. It is not illegal to possess lionfish that were imported prior to Aug. 1, 2014, or that were harvested from the waters off Florida.

Can I sell my imported lionfish?

Yes, but only if you have documentation that the lionfish was imported prior to Aug. 1, 2014, and you hold the appropriate wholesale or retail license.

How do I know the lionfish I am purchasing has been imported?

Aquarium dealers should be able to provide documentation that the lionfish was taken from Florida waters and not imported.

What do I do if I have a lionfish I no longer want?

The release of any nonnative species is prohibited. If you have a lionfish you can no longer take care of the FWC may be able to help. Call the FWC’s nonnative hotline at 888-IVE-GOT-1 for help finding a new home for your pet.   

What is a rebreather and why is FWC allowing their use for the harvest of lionfish?

Rebreathers recycle exhaled air allowing for longer, deeper dives. They also produce few or no bubbles, allowing divers to get closer to fish and other marine life without spooking them. Harvesting saltwater fish while using a rebreather has been prohibited statewide since 1998. However, scientific and recreational divers are increasingly using rebreathers when SCUBA diving, and have requested FWC create an exception to allow their use when harvesting lionfish. This change will facilitate lionfish removal from deeper waters typically not accessed by divers using traditional SCUBA gear. It will also increase the number of divers that can participate in removal efforts. In particular, it will encourage very skilled divers, who spend a great deal of time in the water and who take longer dive trips, to remove lionfish.

Why is spearfishing prohibited in some parts of the state and how is issuing permits for the use of spearfishing gears in these areas expected to help address the lionfish problem?

The primary reasons spearfishing is prohibited in certain locations are

1)   to ensure the safety of spearfishermen, other divers, and members of the public and

2)   to reduce conflicts between spearfishermen and anglers. 

For example, spearfishing is prohibited around fishing piers and bridges where divers are likely to be hooked by anglers. Spearfishing is also prohibited in the Upper Keys, where large numbers of recreational divers congregate. Because spearfishing is among the most effective methods for harvesting lionfish, these areas sometimes become safe havens for these species. Allowing spearfishing in these areas by organized groups at specific times will aid in removal efforts.

Is FWC considering other changes that will help combat the lionfish invasion?

FWC will continue to research and explore ways to control the lionfish population using management efforts, outreach and education.

Why is the Commission taking these steps now?

While lionfish were first reported in Florida’s waters in 1985, sightings have increased significantly in the past few years. Because of this, the FWC has increased its efforts including working on regulatory changes and outreach and education.

FWC Facts:
One 24-inch female red snapper can produce as many eggs as 212 17-inch females.

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