State bill targets lionfish

FLORIDA KEYS — State legislators this spring are taking their turn at trying to eliminate invasive lionfish from Florida waters.

State Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, introduced a bill this session to stop the importation of lionfish to Florida. Some aquariums in Florida are buying the fish from overseas and then selling them to retail outlets throughout the state.

“This is mainly a preventive thing,” said Angela Miller, a legislative aide to state Sen. Greg Evers, R-Pensacola.

Evers is co-sponsoring a companion bill, which is making its way through the Senate.

The senator’s office doesn’t have knowledge of people releasing lionfish into state waters, but they fear it is happening or could happen.

Miller said she is positive the bill will make it through the Legislature and to the governor’s desk. As in the Florida Keys, she said lionfish are becoming prevalent in waters around the Panhandle. They too host tournaments with awards going to whoever can catch the most lionfish.

The fish has been gaining popularity among Florida chefs, who are trying to create a market for the invader so commercial fishermen will begin to target the species. Lionfish have no predators in Florida and devour any reef fish or other species they come in contact with.

Local pet store owners seem to be supporting the proposal, which won’t have too much effect on business.

“I won’t buy lionfish for anyone anytime,” said Robby Majeska, who owns Keys Kritters in Key Largo.

Occasionally, people bring lionfish to Majeska’s shop and he keeps them and offers store credit. However, he says he does not buy them from companies that import the fish.

In the Florida Keys, Reef Environmental Education Foundation has hosted dozens of lionfish tournaments, known as derbies, to try to slow down the spread of the fish. The group also offers lectures on lionfish and conducts fish counts to project population.

“We’re going to support any measure to get lionfish out of the water,” said Lad Akins, who is in charge of REEF’s lionfish campaign. “Everybody has a role to play.”

Akins said he likes Raschein’s bill because it also promotes the exporting of lionfish out of Florida.

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