The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will host its annual Lionfish Removal and Awareness Festival May 15 – 16 in Destin. The FWC will hold the event outdoors, where vendors and educational booths will be set up. A lionfish-catching tournament, the Emerald Coast Open, will coincide with the festival. The activities are meant to raise awareness of lionfish, a nonnative invasive species FWC spokesperson Amanda Nalley says was first introduced into Florida’s waters back in the mid-80s. She says since then, their numbers have grown.
“They tend to go on a reef, their population tends to grow to a point, and they can eat everything on that reef that they impact other species,” Nalley says.
Nalley says one of the problems with lionfish is that they don’t have a main predator in Florida’s waters.
“Lionfish, unlike other marine predators that we’ve had in our waters and marine invasive species—their populations have grown pretty much unchecked. So usually, when you have an invasive species or a nonnative species in our marine environment, something ends up eating it, with lionfish, the only thing that really eats it is us,” Nalley says.
There is no exact count of how many lionfish are in Florida’s waters. Nalley says based on anecdotal information from divers, lionfish numbers have started declining.
“And so that could be a good thing—that could be that more people know about the issue and are taking action by removing lionfish when they see them. It could also mean, though, that more lionfish are being found in deeper waters—that maybe they’re moving to places where divers you know can’t access as easily.”
Nalley encourages divers to remove the critter from the water if they see one.