Lionfish (Pterois volitans, Pterois miles) Frequently Asked Questions

What should I do if I see a lionfish? Can lionfish be harvested?

  • The FWC encourages divers, anglers and commercial harvesters to safely remove lionfish they encounter in order to help control the numbers of these invasive fish. Removing lionfish can help Florida's native marine species and habitats.
  • Local control efforts have proven to be effective. Lionfish can be speared, caught in hand-held nets or caught on hook and line. There is no recreational or commercial harvest bag limit for lionfish.

What are the best methods to harvest lionfish?

  • Lionfish are best taken by spear and hand-held nets. They are rarely taken successfully on hook and line. They also are taken as bycatch in commercial trap fisheries.
  • Care should be taken when spear fishing so that the spears do not impact and damage reefs.
  • The practice of feeding lionfish to other predatory species while diving should be avoided because it is dangerous and illegal in state waters. It also is proven to not be effective.

Where should I report lionfish sightings?

What other organizations besides the FWC are working to remove/control lionfish?

  • Other organizations that are working to help control lionfish include REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation), NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), and USGS (United States Geological Survey).
  • The professional and recreational dive community is also working to help remove and control lionfish.

Are lionfish poisonous?

  • Lionfish have 18 venomous spines that should be avoided during capture and handling because they can cause painful injuries.
  • Thirteen long venomous spines are located along the front of the dorsal fin which is located on the top of the fish. Two short venomous spines are located on the pelvic fins (one on each side), which is located on the bottom of the fish closest to the fishes head. Three additional venomous spines are located along the front edge of the anal fin which is located on the bottom of the fish nearest the tail.
  • The large and featherlike pectoral fins and the tail fin do not contain venomous spines.
  • Each bony and venomous spine is grooved and covered with a skin-like tissue. During a sting, the skin-like covering is torn and retracted as the spine is inserted into the body of a predator. This process allows direct exposure of the wound to the venomous glandular tissue located along the grooved spine.
  • Lionfish fins are not hollow and do not inject venom like a hypodermic needle or the fangs of a snake.
  • The flesh of the lionfish is not poisonous or venomous.

What should I do if I am stung by a lionfish?

  • Treat puncture wounds by immersing the area in hot (not scalding) water for 30-90 minutes and seek medical attention if needed. The Poison Help Hotline at 1-800-222-1222 is available 24 hours a day, every day.

Is it okay to eat lionfish?

  • It is legal to eat lionfish and it is served in many restaurants.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Florida Department of Health have not issued statements on eating lionfish.
  • The flesh of the lionfish is not poisonous or venomous, and is considered to be of excellent quality by most who try it.
  • Venom in spines is neutralized by heat.
  • To learn more about your health and consuming fish visit the Florida Department of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.

Where are lionfish native?

  • Lionfish are native to the reefs and rocky crevices of the south Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Red Sea.

How long have lionfish been in Florida waters?

  • Lionfish were first reported off Florida's Atlantic Coast near Dania Beach in Broward County in 1985.
  • Beginning in 2000, the species was regularly seen off the southeast Atlantic coast of the U.S. They are now commonly found throughout the Bahamas and the Caribbean.
  • Recently, lionfish have been collected or observed in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

How far north have lionfish been observed?

  • Lionfish have been found as far north as the coast of Rhode Island, but they are not able to survive the cold winters.

What do lionfish eat?

  • Juvenile lionfish eat mostly invertebrates, but shift their diet to more fish as adults.
  • Adult lionfish spread their pectoral fins and use them to "herd" prey.
  • They also compete for food with native predatory fish such as grouper and snapper.
  • Lionfish can have negative effects on the overall reef habitat as they can eliminate species that serve important ecological roles such as fish that keep algae in check on the reefs.

Do lionfish have any predators in Florida waters?

  • There is no indication that lionfish populations are being controlled by native predators. While some cases of individualized predation on lionfish do occur, they are rare.

How big do lionfish get?

  • Lionfish can grow to 15 inches or more in areas where they are not indigenous, some as large as 18.5 inches.

How often do lionfish reproduce?

  • Females release up to 30,000 eggs per spawn and can spawn every four days in warmer climates.


For more information

Lionfish Recreational Regulations

2013 Lionfish Summit

Lionfish Species Information

Lionfish Derbys and Events

Lionfish Brochure icon_PDF.gif

FWC Facts:
Red Tide Offshore Monitoring Volunteer Program boat captains sample offshore waters for potential red tide blooms. They also track ongoing blooms to aid researchers.

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