Lion tamers wanted, must like to fish

Chef Danny Itzkovitz cooked up this attractive lionfish entrée, with spines still attached, which sh Photo available for purchase

Chef Danny Itzkovitz cooked up this attractive lionfish entrée, with spines still attached, which should never be tried at home

Lois Swoboda
Published: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 at 11:42 AM.

An invasion is underway off our shores.

Two species of lionfish (Pterois volitans, Pterois miles), native to the Asian and African waters, have been introduced to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coast of the US after being imported to North America as aquarium fish.

Lionfish are beautiful but they are also a growing problem, an invasive species destroying native ecosystems and, because they are venomous, a threat to divers and fishermen. It is now illegal to bring lionfish into Florida but the law banning them came late.

Lionfish were first reported off Florida's Atlantic Coast near Dania Beach in 1985. In the 2000s, the species began to be recorded off the Atlantic coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, while reports from Bermuda and Florida continued.

In 2011, charter fisherman and avid diver Grayson Shepard was the first to spot one of these “toxic butterflies” off Franklin County, a fish only three inches long. He said he was both excited to have finally seen one and disturbed by the knowledge they were here. It was a few months before he saw a second one but they gradually grew common.

“Now, every dive spot we go to is covered with them,” Shepard said. “You have to be careful not to get stung.”

On Aug. 14, Tamara’s Tapas Bar hosted a Sci-Café presented by the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve (ANERR) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC) Lionfish Action Control Team. Lead speakers were FWC lionfish expert Meaghan Faletti and Shepard.

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