On May 18 and 19, 2019, a record number of lionfish were harvested in Florida waters when anglers harvested 19,167 of them during a two-day event. While these fish are not the only exotic predators in Florida, they are one of the most invasive. The Florida Department of Wildlife has issued a contest running until Labor Day with many people eligible to win many prizes for harvesting this invasive fish.
The lionfish is a native to the Indo-Pacific region. While they can grow to be 18-inches long, they start out smaller than one inch. There are two species of these invasive predators; the Pterois volitans and Pterois miles. Three dorsal spines; 10-11 dorsal soft rays; three anal spines; and six-or-seven anal soft rays cover their body. The first lionfish may have been intentionally released into Florida waters about 1985. No one knows for sure, however, and their numbers and the geographical area continues to spread across the United States and in other locations.
Lionfish are problems throughout Florida and much of the Caribbean, although reports have come as far north as New York. They are a problem because they can destroy other species of fish that live among coral reefs and in other areas. While a lionfish moves extremely slowly, they ambush other fish with their spines and smother them. This process destroys the balance of marine ecosystems. The fish that lionfish are eating are essential to keep algae from growing on the coral reefs. As adults, lionfish tend to stay in one area. Therefore, it is not unusual to find more than 200 fish covering one acre choking out the chance for other species to survive.
Lionfish have a unique way of spawning. Females lay a mass of about 12,000 to 15,000 eggs. Then, the eggs float for about 25 days before they hatch. Most lionfish are mature when they are a year old. At that point, most males are about four-inches long while females are about 7-inches long. After that point, lionfish grow at a much slower rate.
If you encounter a lionfish, then you may get stung as they release venom. This venom can be dangerous to humans as it can cause respiratory issues, extreme pain, sweating, and paralysis. Therefore, if you encounter a lionfish, you should seek medical attention immediately.
One way to learn more about invasive species that have been released into Florida’s waters is on airboat tours in Orlando. On these tours, an experienced crew will take you out and show you about Florida’s native marine life. These airboat tours in Orlando are also a great way to learn more about your role in protecting nature. Call Switchgrass Outfitters & Airboat Tours to set up your airboat ride in Orlando today.