Lionfish invasion spreads to Pensacola rivers


Local environmental groups, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and divers from throughout the Panhandle region will gather at the Flora-Bama Ole River Grill and Yacht Club in Perdido Key on Friday and Saturday for the annual Lionfish Removal Festival and Tournament. The lionfish invasion has spread at alarming rates and have made their way through rivers in Pensacola, Florida:

Organizers of an upcoming lionfish roundup hope to collect thousands of the invasive and venomous predators, which are now being found in rivers and estuaries outside of the Gulf of Mexico. [. . .]

Event organizer Brian Asher said the annual lionfish roundup is the largest such event anywhere in the world. Asher said the goal of the festival is to harvest more than 15,000 lionfish from local waters during the two-day event. [. . .]

Anna Clark, founder of the Pensacola nonprofit environmental group Coast Watch Alliance, said lionfish have been found in some estuaries of Big Lagoon State Park in the Pensacola area and have been found in rivers and estuaries in other parts of the state.

“Depending on water temperature, we would expect them to come into the beach snorkeling areas, bays and estuaries,” she said.

Clark and other lionfish experts say creating commercial markets for lionfish meat is key to helping control their spread. The lionfish roundup will include demonstrations by area chefs about how to filet and prepare the flaky white meat while avoiding contact with the venomous spines.

Although there is a growing demand for the lionfish meat, the fish can be difficult to harvest because they are usually caught by divers who are spearfishing. Researchers worldwide have been looking at traps, robotic technology and other ways to capture larger numbers of lionfish at once.

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[Photo above by Robert Turpin.]

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