At its June meeting in Sarasota, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved a new and exciting opportunity that will encourage divers to remove invasive lionfish by allowing them to take one extra spiny lobster each day during the two-day sport season this summer (July 29-30) that they also harvest 10 lionfish.
In addition, people can take a photo of their lionfish and lobster catch during the two-day season and post it on Facebook.com/LionfishReefRangers to get a “Be the Predator” T-shirt. One lucky photo entrant will also win a lifetime saltwater fishing license via a drawing held shortly after the sport season.
“The FWC operates in a culture of innovation. Opportunities like this are a great way to get divers who are already in the water accustomed to removing lionfish,” said Commissioner Brian Yablonski. “Our hope is that once lobster divers realize how easy it is to remove lionfish, they will continue to do so throughout the regular lobster season and beyond.”
Lionfish are invasive species that have a potential negative impact on Florida’s native wildlife and habitat. With no predators or other mechanisms such as disease or parasites keeping the lionfish population under control in Florida at this time, harvest by divers is the primary means of lionfish removal.
For the 2015 spiny lobster sport season only, divers will be allowed a single spiny lobster over the bag limit per day for each day that they also harvest 10 or more lionfish. Lionfish must be kept as proof of harvest while on the water. When off the water, a photo of harvesters with their 10 lionfish must be kept to document eligibility for harvesting an extra lobster. Lionfish must be harvested the same day and prior to taking the additional lobster. All other rules, including no spearfishing zones, apply.
The two-day spiny lobster recreational sport season (also known as mini-season) falls on the last Wednesday and Thursday of July each year before the Aug. 6 opening of the regular season. During this two-day season, the regular bag limit is six spiny lobster in state and federal waters of Biscayne National Park waters and off Monroe County, and 12 spiny lobster elsewhere. There is no bag limit for lionfish; harvesters can take as many as they want.
If the program is successful at encouraging lionfish removal, it could be continued in future years.