Lawmakers attempt to control lionfish

Lawmakers have introduced bills in the Florida House and Senate banning the importation and aquaculture of invasive lionfish. The identical bills, filed by Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, and Sen. Greg Evers, R-Pensacola, may might be one of the first legislative efforts in the United States to control the spread of the venomous exotics from the Indo-Pacific.

Lionfish, believed to be abandoned aquarium pets first spotted in South Florida waters in the 1980s, are responsible for decimating native fish populations throughout the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. They have been found from estuaries a few inches deep to 1,000-foot-deep ocean canyons.

House Bill 1069 and Senate Bill 1336 would prohibit the importation and sale of illegally-imported lionfish and prevent fish farmers from growing them. However, Florida fishers, trappers and divers could still sell the lionfish they catch or spear locally. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Department of Agriculture would be authorized to adopt rules enforcing those provisions.

The bills were developed in consultation with the nonprofit Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) and the FWC following last October’s statewide Lionfish Summit in Cocoa Beach.

“Let’s encourage removal of fish from the invaded range and stop bringing in new fish from the Indo-Pacific,” said Lad Akins, director of special projects at REEF.

The bills now will make their way through committees in both chambers. If adopted, the law would take effect Aug. 1.

Billfish competition

Liquid, skippered by captain Art Sapp, leap-frogged from third to the top spot with a total of 11 sailfish releases in Jimmy Johnson’s National Billfish Championship that concluded Saturday in Key Largo.

Liquid’s winnings exceeded $205,000, according to tournament director Jamie Bunn.

BAR South, skippered by Jim Mulcahy, was runner-up team with nine releases, including four for top angler Mark Galadza. Joe Neber’s Contender One scored eight sails to take third place in the fleet of 47 boats. Anglers released 149 sailfish in two days.

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