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Reef Advocates Call For Eradicating Invasive Lionfish

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Although they were first spotted in 2010, it's unclear how they made their way to Florida waters.

A Florida Senate panel is weighing its options after hearing about the exponential growth of the invasive lionfish species in Florida waters. Coral reef conservationists say the state’s fish and wildlife service isn’t doing enough to prevent the venomous fish’s spreading and they’re calling on lawmakers to step in.

The lionfish made its first appearance in Florida waters around 2010. In the years since, their population has ballooned. And that’s problematic because lionfish have no natural predators and are known to eat more than 50 varieties of native fish – sometimes snacking on as many as 60 prey in a single day. That means fewer fish for fishermen. Conservationists say not addressing the problem could have dire consequences.

“By not solving fishery problems we are harming Florida’s economy, we’re costing our state jobs, we are reducing state and local revenue and one thing that is very important for you to remember is we are also taking away the heritage of our citizens,” Emerald Coast Reef Association Vice President Candy Hansard told the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday.

Hansard said until now, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has only sought to manage the problem with a piecemeal approach, when it really needs to focus on eradication. And she argued that because of the fish’s prolific nature, the problem will only worsen.

“We need to have a viable, aggressive lion fish population control plan and we need to implement it immediately because every single day that we waste those fish are reproducing. They release up to two million eggs per year,” Hansard said.

Hansard wants the state to reimburse divers who kill more than 100 lionfish and create a contest for scientists looking for safe ways to eradicate the thorny fish. So far, no bills addressing the issue have been filed.