Madison Arnold (Pensacola News Journal) reports on the latest news on the decline of the invasive lionfish population in Florida. According to the article, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is unsure of whether the apparent population decrease can be attributed to “a new disease, mitigation efforts, a natural ebb and flow of invasive species populations or a combination of those factors.” Scientists reported that a disease that creates open sores on lionfish collected in the northern Gulf of Mexico may have contributed to the recent population decline. Arnold writes:
Lionfish populations seem to be down at frequently fished reefs statewide, but experts aren’t quite sure why or how long the decline might last. Earlier this month, scientists reported that a disease that creates open sores on invasive lionfish collected in the northern Gulf of Mexico may have contributed to a recent population decline.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is unsure of whether the apparent population decrease can be attributed to the disease, mitigation efforts, a natural ebb and flow of invasive species populations or a combination of those factors. “What we do know is people are seeing them less and less on frequently visited reefs right now, and we do know they’re still in deep waters,” said Amanda Nalley, public information specialist for FWC. “It’s kind of one of those things, it’s fun to talk about, but there’s a lot of caveats and a lot we don’t know.”
Already underway is a pre-tournament lionfish competition, where divers can enter the fish they capture for raffle prizes, before the annual Emerald Coast Open on May 15-17 in Destin. The event was previously held in Pensacola. In conjunction with the tournament, FWC has planned Lionfish Awareness and Removal Day on the first Saturday after Mother’s Day.
The FWC has been working on reducing lionfish for the last decade through public information, events and grants for exhibits at aquariums and charter boat dives to catch the fish. FWC has also removed regulations like commercial harvest numbers or daily bag numbers. “The thing that is so disconcerting to us is that this is the first truly successful marine invader that we’ve had,” Nalley said. “You have this species that has nothing really keeping its population in check other than human divers removing them.”
Photo above by James Morris, Jr./NOAA: Adult Lionfish, an invasive species native to the Indian Ocean and South Pacific.