Lionfish in Florida

A lionfish in Florida

Lionfish in Florida are an invasive species that have invaded the state’s coastal waters. The first sightings were reported in 1985 off the Atlantic Coast. The original fish were probably released by kindhearted aquarists after the fish outgrew their aquariums.

They multiply fast and have few predators in local waters. They eat surprisingly large fish and invertebrates, dramatically reducing the local population. It even appears that they eat each other when they can’t catch other food, usually because they’ve eaten it all.

Lionfish in Florida are hardy and are out competing our local species. They are a threat to the Florida coastal environment and to both commercial and sport fishing, as well as tourism. It appears that the only way to reduce their numbers is for humans to do it directly.

Speared Florida lionfish
A lionfish on the tip of a speargun

How to kill lionfish

There are no limits or closed seasons on lionfish. They can be killed whenever and wherever you want. It’s easy to do. They’re most commonly found in the Keys. They’re slow swimmers that depend on their spines for protection. The spines are venomous and painful. Trying to unhook a live lionfish is a challenge. I always recommend circle hooks in order to spare the fish. I do so in this case in order to spare the fisherman. Hook removal is easier if they’re hooked in the lip instead of the stomach.

Of course you can go in the water after them. They’re easy to catch using two hand nets. Hold one on each side of the fish and then snap them together. The lionfish will usually remain still as you set up. This method is especially effective with ones that are too small to spear. The big ones are easy to shoot. A spear gun isn’t necessary. A pole spear works just as well. If you don’t want to eat then, release them dead, but they’re excellent table fare.

How to prepare lionfish

When cleaning lionfish you need to be aware of the spines. There are thirteen venomous dorsal spines. Each pelvic fin has a venomous spine and there are three anal spines. They’re not hard to avoid. The first step is to make shallow connected cuts around the area you’ll fillet. Once that’s done, grab the skin on the top front corner. Peel it off from there. Then fillet as usual. The meat is not venomous. Heat destroys the venom anyway. Cook the beautiful white meat fillets as you would any such fillet.

You may not always be able to go out and kill lionfish. You can still help. Ask for lionfish at your grocery store and order it in restaurants. You’ll get a good tasting fish as well as helping with the fight. The only defense against these invaders is us.

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