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Thousands of Invasive Lionfish Captured in Florida During Annual Challenge

Newsweek logo Newsweek 9/20/2022 Robyn White

Thousands of invasive lionfish have been captured as part of Florida's 2022 Lionfish Challenge.

The three-month challenge took part from May to September and saw 25,299 lionfish caught, the highest number since 2018, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said in a statement.

This year also saw a record number of participants, with 707 people signing up for the seventh year of the annual challenge.

Lionfish are a venomous fish species, native to tropical waters in the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific, but they are an invasive species to Florida waters.

They were first detected in the state in the 1980s, and experts suspect they came from aquariums, by either accidental escape or release. The venomous species are increasingly common off the Florida coast and have a severe impact on native marine life.

The annual lionfish challenge is an initiative organized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to control the rapidly expanding population. The challenge offers prizes for the most-successful participants.

The winner this year, dubbed the "Lionfish King," in the recreational division, was Isaac Jones, who caught 1,018 lionfish during the challenge. The runner-up in this sector was Baye Beauford, with 863 lionfish.

The champion in the commercial fishing division was Paul DeCuir, who caught 1,092 pounds of lionfish during the competition. The runner-up was Alex Fogg, with 1,090 pounds.

A picture shows Paul DeCuir who won the commercial division with 1,092 pounds of lionfish FWC © FWC A picture shows Paul DeCuir who won the commercial division with 1,092 pounds of lionfish FWC

Anybody can enter the lionfish tournament for free, and participants from all over the state just need a recreational fishing license for all methods, including hook and line. There is no recreational or commercial limit on the amount of lionfish one person can catch.

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, the government agency responsible for the stewardship of the nation's ocean resources and their habitat, lionfish can reduce the population of native reef fish by 79 percent.

As the species feast primarily on herbivorous fish species, this can lessen the amount of fish eating algae from the reefs. If algae is allowed to grow, this could have adverse effects on the ecosystem.

Commercial fishermen will usually sell the lionfish to a dealer, who will then market them as food.

Scientists have determined that lionfish food markets are an effective way of managing the population, but as the species are venomous, concerns remain around this method.

According to NOAA Fisheries, ciguatera poisoning is a potential side-effect of eating the species. However, there have been no confirmed cases of such poisoning from lionfish. NOAA Fisheries will continue to monitor the situation.

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