Bill D’Antuono, from Naples, Florida, hopes to change a law that has been in the books for nearly 60 years. Although spearfishing is legal in Florida, Collier County is the only county in the state with a full ban on spearfishing. D’Antuono, who is president of the Naples Spearfishing League, believes that spearfishing is the only way to control the invasive lionfish species.
[. . .] D’Antuono grew up on the water, fishing and diving but the ban on spearfishing forces him and other to go more than nine miles from shore to international waters. “The law has been in the books since the 1950’s and it just needs to be revisited and changed and adapt to the times,” says D’Antuono. Over the weekend, D’Antuono started a petition on change.org after his friend caught the first reported lionfish in Collier County just 200 yards off shore. “Realize what is at stake here,” says D’Antuono. It’s our whole gulf, the whole gulf is at risk.”
Because lionfish have no preditors [sic], there is no way to control their population and they pose a huge threat to Florida’s native species like grouper and snapper. “One of the biggest fears, just like we see with pythons in the everglades is that they have the impact to really disrupt our natural ecosystem and in this case that could… down the road have economic impacts for our region too,” says Bryan Fluech, Collier County Marine Science Extension Agent for the University of Florida Extension Service.
The only known defense against lionfish is spearfishing. That is why the FWC just recently changed the rules allowing people to catch lionfish without a recreational fishing license, but that rule change doesn’t supercede Collier County’s ban. “Even if it’s takes having a special spear, a little mini spear, that would be a start, that would be something,” say D’Antuono.
The ban on spearfishing in Collier County is a state statute. An FWC spokesperson says that means Collier County Commissioners would need to lift the ban first and then the measure would head to the legislature. Fluech doesn’t think spearfishing alone will solve the problem. “It’s a tough issue because they are cryptic, they’re not always out in the open, so spearfishing can help in some cases. Is it going to be a solution? Probably not, and we’ve seen that in other parts of the Caribbean and Florida as well.”
He says reporting sightings helps managers document the spread of lionfish. Divers can report sightings at http://nas.er.usgs.gov/sightingreport.aspx