The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has removed previous license requirements to harvest the invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans) from Florida waters. It has also removed the bag limit of this popular aquarium fish, previously set at 100 pounds, to unlimited, so recreational divers who wish to harvest these fish can do so with the proper equipment, without a fishing license.
The change in requirements came June 12 during the commission’s meeting in Lakeland, Fla. when commissioners voted to exclude the invasive fish from the commercial and recreational bag limits that were previously imposed on the fish. An August 2012 executive order allowed the harvest of lionfish with hand held nets, pole spears, Hawaiian slings, and other devices designed to capture lionfish without the need for a recreational license. That order will expire August 3, but the new rule allowing unlimited harvesting of the fish goes into effect June 30.
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The lionfish is an invasive species in Florida and is probably the most notorious fish in the aquarium hobby that has become established outside its native range. They became established in Florida after six specimens apparently escaped from an aquarium during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. They are now well established on the East Coast and have been found as far north as Connecticut to the Caribbean. In battling this invasive and predatory fish, the state of Florida has launched lionfish derbies and other public awareness campaigns in an effort to get its residents to hunt these fish off Florida’s reefs, where they have wreaked considerable havoc over the last 20 years. The removal of license requirements and bag limits is another step in the state’s battle against these beautiful, yet highly predatory and invasive species.