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Items filtered by date: Thursday, 21 April 2016
Friday, 22 April 2016 12:49

The Lionfish Invasion

was accidentally introduced to the eastern seaboard and Caribbean in the 1990s. After its introduction to the Atlantic, the lionfish has steadily expanded its range. The first confirmed sighting of a lionfish occurred within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) in January 2009. The lionfish has no known natural predators in the Atlantic, an appetite for native fish and crustaceans, and the ability to spawn year-round. Because of this, ecologists are concerned that lionfish could have an impact on native reef fish populations and the natural balance of the reef ecosystem.

Prior to the arrival of lionfish in the Keys, FKNMS and other partners developed an early detection and rapid response plan for invasive fish. Stickers listing the reporting hotline numbers were distributed to dive operators and marinas throughout the Keys while outreach campaigns served to raise awareness of the fish and the reporting hotlines. Upon receipt of a sighting report, trained divers were deployed to capture the fish.
As lionfish sightings increased during 2009, resource managers began enlisting the help of the dive community in control efforts to remove the invasive fish. Lionfish capture technique workshops were held throughout the Keys and attended by more than 100 dive operators, marine life collectors and members of the research community. These workshops were a prerequisite for a sanctuary permit to remove lionfish which must be done with hand nets within the 18 no take zones of the sanctuary. No permit is required to remove lionfish from the general use areas of the sanctuary or outside sanctuary boundaries, but training is strongly recommended.
In the first year of the invasion, approximately 60 lionfish sightings were confirmed, with about 50 percent successfully removed from sanctuary waters. The majority have been sighted by divers, though a few have been found in lobster traps. Hook and line capture of lionfish is rare, though possible. Lionfish have no known depth preference and have been found in the Keys as shallow as seawalls and as deep as the artificial reef of the Vandenberg (140 feet). Nor do they seem to have a habitat preference as they have been found on reefs, in mangroves and in seagrass meadows.
Lionfish State Graph
Divers in the Florida Keys who spot a lionfish are encouraged to take note of the location and call the reporting hotline (305)852-0030. Trained divers may attempt to capture or kill the fish, but are asked to report the sighting and location. Anglers should be careful if they catch a lionfish. If it becomes hooked, the line should be cut releasing the fish into a cooler. No attempt should be made to remove the hook itself since the venomous spines of the lionfish release a toxin that can be extremely painful. If accidentally stung, immerse the wound in hot water and seek immediate medical attention. The 24-hour Aquatic Toxins Hotline at the Florida Poison Information Center in Miami has medical experts on hand and can be reached by calling 1-888-232-8635.
Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection
Published in Environment

On Wednesday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved rewards for anyone who harvests a minimum of 50 Lionfish over the next twelve months. The FWC will also reward the person who kills the most lionfish at either tournaments or at lionfish checkpoints between May 14 –now called Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day - and Sept. 30. That person will be given a lifetime saltwater fishing license, be designated a lionfish Hall-of-Famer, allowed to take an extra spiny lobster and have a chance at being crowned the Lionfish King or Queen.

In addition, their photo will be featured on the cover of the FWC’s January 2017 saltwater regulations publication, and they will be individually recognized at the November 2016 Commission meeting.

Lee County Lion fish hunt 1

The FWC was motivated to expand its efforts to eradicate the Lionfish after the very recent Indian River fish kill. While tens of thousands of fish spanning over 30 species were found dead in the massive die-off, not a single Lionfish was found. It is a tough, voracious predator and is causing extensive damage to Florida’s native fish and shellfish populations. The scope of the problem is easy to understand since the Indian River Lagoon alone spans 156 miles and six counties.

It has only been a few short years since Lionfish invaded the Indian River watershed and nobody knows with any certainty when they arrived; but in 2010 two Florida Tech students spotted several inside Sebastian Inlet. Since then, they have been discovered inside Port Canaveral, in the lagoon itself; around seawalls, pilings and, in terms of an environmental threat; — in the mangroves. This is particularly significant since mangrove swamps are viewed as key nursery areas for grouper, snapper and other commercially valuable species. Also they continue to spread rapidly and are now found as far inland as Jupiter Inlet.

Lee County is also no stranger to the Indo-Pacific Lionfish. In July of 2011, the NewsPress published an article heralding their arrival in SW Florida.

Lionfish spawn and prefer to live around rocky reefs, so they are unlikely to threaten people on sandy beaches, but they are a huge threat to our local fishing community because they reduce already diminished populations of commercially taken species like grouper and snapper. Since the NewsPress first made the public aware of their presence they’ve continued to spread in the waters offshore from southwest Florida’s Lee County. Lee County officials first sighted the Lionfish about 160 miles off Marco Island and in the nearshore waters off Sarasota County. Local divers report they are now abundant in the artificial reefs and rocky formations of Lee County waters.

Lionfish are a serious threat. To illustrate this point the Washington Post published an article by a group of prominent scientists, including marine biologists who said that lionfish were “one of the top 15 threats to biodiversity worldwide.”

spearing lionfish 2 1

“They are taking over ecosystems from Trinidad and Tobago all the way up to Maine,” said Barton Seaver, a Blue Ocean Institute Fellow who was quoted by the Post.

Since they breed year round and are voracious predators, they rapidly take over any territory they invade to become the dominant fish species as has occurred on many reefs in the Bahamas and Caribbean.

Of grave concern to commercial fishermen is how they reduce desirable commercial species by reducing recruitment of juvenile snapper and grouper. It has been shown that a single lionfish can reduce the number of juvenile fish on a small patch reef by 80 percent in five weeks.

lionfish fillet 2

Fortunately Lionfish are good to eat. Those who have tried them say they have white, flaky meat that is not fishy. They have been compared to hogfish, long considered a local delicacy.

To bring increased awareness to lionfish edibility and put them on menus, a South West Florida organization -The Heights Center and Lee Reefs – began hosting an event called “Lionfish Fest – Feast on the Beast” – a lionfish Roundup and Chef Cook-off. With the expressed goal of helping to control local lionfish populations, Lee Reefs also held a competition to capture lionfish.

Due to their poisonous spines, spearing them is the preferred method of catching them and while this method is labor intensive our seafood industry is trying to work out a method to make them economically viable as a commercial species. The FWC has already waived the recreational license requirement for divers harvesting lionfish using certain gear, including spears and they also voted to exclude lionfish from the commercial and recreational bag limits.

In the current eradication initiative, all lionfish must be counted via an FWC-approved process, at a sponsored tournament or a check-in location. Locations will be listed online at MyFWC.com/Lionfish. The FWC wants the public to be aware that all other fishing rules still apply.

The FWC will establish as many lionfish check-in locations as feasible between now and May 14, and lionfish recorded at FWC-sponsored tournaments will automatically count. A list of tournaments and check-in locations will be available on MyFWC.com/Lionfish prior to May 14.

“Innovative programs like these are a great way to generate public involvement and interest in controlling the Lionfish population,” said FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski in a press release. “Those that remove lionfish not only get rewarded for their efforts, but they also get the experience of helping manage Florida’s fisheries."

The program will also help FWC “gather better data to improve the agency's approach to invasive species control,” he said.

The new initiative also includes a Panhandle Pilot Program to focus on Lionfish removal efforts off Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf and Franklin counties.

The Lionfish problem is far worse in those counties. To provide even greater incentive for participation, for every 100 lionfish harvested from that seven-county region between May 2016 and May 2017, the harvester will be become eligible for a tag that will allow them to take a legal-sized red grouper or a legal-sized cobia over the bag limit.

Accordingly, Florida will issue 100 red grouper and 30 cobia tags to successful participants in the pilot program. Also, any individual or group that harvests 500 or more Lionfish during this one-year period will be given the unique opportunity to name an artificial reef.

Learn about Lionfish, including the two-day FWC hosted Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day Festival (May 14-15) in Pensacola; at MyFWC.com/Lionfish or ReefRangers.com.

Staff report:

{Carl Conley, Christine Williams and the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute all contributed to this article.}



Published in Environment

The Lee County School Board voted unanimously this past Tuesday to build a Bonita Springs High School on a 76-acre, 11 million dollar parcel off of Imperial Parkway and Shangri-La Road. Currently high school students in the area attend classes four miles outside of Bonita Spring.

Published in Business

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