The lionfish is a fierce predator and successful competitor in the fight to survive in Florida's coastal waters. Officials encourage people to eat this invader from the Indian and Pacific oceans. But catching a lionfish is dangerous, due to its poisonous spine.
Meet the Competition: The Lionfish
The lionfish goes by the aliases of "Dragon Fish", "Scorpion Fish" and "Turkey Fish". There are several sub-species, including "Red" and "Clearfin". Red Lionfish have become a serious problem for Florida. Some of its features are:
- The spines are prominent, colourful...and poisonous
- Overall, the fish is brightly coloured
- Carnivorous and aggressive, they can out-compete the native Florida fish for food resources
- Living in salty ocean waters, they will venture close to the coast
- They are not afraid of humans
Sightings in Central Florida
Lionfish have been reported on Florida's Gulf coast, off Anna Maria Island, and on the Atlantic coast, at the Indian River Lagoon. For those not familiar with these locations, here are the directions:
- Starting from Orlando, go south-west on I4, past Tampa, to St. Petersburg. If you were to fly about 27 km SSW from there, you would be on Anna Maria island.
- Starting from Orlando, fly about 135 km SSE to Indian River, just north of Port St. Lucie. (Drivers may want to take the Ronald Reagan Turnpike, or use highway 528 east to catch the I95 south).
The proverbial crow could fly almost due east from Anna Maria island to Indian River.
Raising the Lionfish in an Aquarium
People do raise lionfish in tanks. Here are some pointers from Mike McEwan of Aquaria Central.
The tank should hold a minimum of 285 litres (75 gallons) of water, with lots of territory if you plan to keep more than one. The salinity should be 1.027 and the temperature about 24-26C (75-79F). The lionfish can grow up to about 45cm (18 inches) in length.
While Mr. McEwan recommends chopped beefheart or fish as a staple food, he says their favourites are live worms, prawns or fish.
If you do raise a pair, watch for their prolific breeding. According to Alecia Adamson of REEF, a Key Largo marine research institute, a female lionfish can spawn once or twice a week. This is in sharp contrast with the annual spawning pattern of most fish.
Escaping the Aquarium, or Charting the Seas?
A classic way for invasive fish to arrive in an area is by escaping after being flushed down a toilet. If this is how they arrived in Florida, it is a black eye for lionfish fanciers.
Since they spawn so frequently, it seems possible that fertile eggs may have been flushed. Whether you flush an adult or an egg, you could well be contributing to the problem.
On the other hand, these fierce predators have been spreading in the Atlantic for some years, and it is not at all certain whether they simply swam from the Indian and Pacific oceans or from sites outside Florida.
Fishing is Your Dangerous Civic Duty
If you live or vacation in Florida, your civic duty is clear: head for the coast; arm yourself with a spear or net or just go fishing; and harvest this dangerous fish that tastes like grouper.
Just avoid being stung. Lionfish venom can cause pain, nausea, swelling or convulsions. Zachary Bamman, also from REEF, said "...the only way to denature the venom is through heat application". Local hospitals have treated some victims.
The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.
Pascal Fletcher, Reuters, "Florida declares 'open season' on invading lionfish", published July 29, 2010, referenced Aug. 18, 2010.
WESH, "Poisonous Lionfish Found In Indian River Lagoon", published Aug. 7, 2010, referenced Aug. 18, 2010.
Carl Mario Nudi, Bradentom.com, "Invasive lionfish found off Anna Maria Island", published Aug. 7, 2010, referenced Aug. 18, 2010.
Mike McEwan, Aquaria Central, "A Fierce Predator", referenced Aug. 18, 2010.