Despite its formidable appearance when alive, the lionfish can be used in a variety of delectable dishes. Above, sauteed lionfish is served on a crisp taco chip, with sauce, at the 2017 Treasure Coast Lionfish Safari. / Photos by J.D. Vivian

Unfortunately, too many species of animals are threatened, endangered or on the verge of extinction. Even more unfortunately, the lionfish is not among them. That’s why various events, such as the upcoming Treasure Coast Lionfish Safari, set for June 9-10, are held each year (treasurecoastlionfishsafari.com).

That’s also why, in Florida, you can hunt lionfish using any method, at any time of year, and without regard to their size or how many you catch.


This fish, which researchers believe arrived in Florida around 2003, is adaptable. It survives easily in the warm waters around the Sunshine State. But it survives farther north, too. By the time this invasive species was discovered in Florida, “Juvenile lionfish were also showing up off Bermuda and even as far north as Long Island, N.Y.,” according to oceanservice.noaa.gov.

This is possible, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, because although the waters that far north are too cold in winter for lionfish, they “survive the winter only at water depths greater than 120 feet because this is where the (warm) Gulf Stream has influence all year long.”

How you can help to reduce the lionfish population

You’ll have a chance to reduce the population of these fast-breeding fish off Fort Pierce on Saturday and Sunday, June 9-10. (If you want to register to use your boat to hunt them, attend the Captains Meeting on June 8. For more information on that, visit treasurecoastlionfishsafari.com.)

Of course, you don’t need to own a boat to help rid the Treasure Coast of these invaders. There also will be plenty of lionfish dishes to sample. The meat is mild and flaky, and it’s tasty whether served raw, as in ceviche, or sauteed. So chow down!

Have you seen this colorful yet problematic creature? The lionfish is common — actually, far too common — throughout Florida waters and even up the U.S. East Coast. Most lionfish are smaller than this 17.5-inch specimen, taken during the 2017 Treasure Coast Lionfish Safari.

Below are five reasons the lionfish is such a problem. The lionfish in the video is a female. About every four days, a female releases 15,000 to 30,000 eggs.

Why are Lionfish a Threat?

  1. Why are lionfish such a threat? These fish are not only venomous but also consume large amounts of native, and important, ocean dwellers such as juvenile snapper and grouper, and shellfish like lobsters and crabs. Each fish has 18 spines that it primarily uses for defense. If you’re stung, it will hurt a lot but most likely won’t kill you.Why are lionfish a threat?
  2. How often do they reproduce? Rapid reproduction is one of the biggest roadblocks to controlling lionfish. About every four days, a female releases 15,000 to 30,000 eggs that are then fertilized by a male. In less than two days, the eggs hatch into small larvae that travel on ocean currents.
  3. Are lionfish adaptable to new environments? Yes, and that’s another problem. The invasion apparently began when some lionfish, used as ornamental aquarium fish, were “released on purpose when people no longer wanted them as aquarium pets,” according to oceanservice.noaa.gov. Lionfish have been seen at depths from 2 feet to 1,000 feet.
  4. What natural predators do they have? Virtually none. The fish love Florida waters because they remain warm year-round. And though some divers have said they’ve seen a shark or a barracuda eating a lionfish, those reports are few. (YouTube has some videos of this.)
  5. How can I help? Participate in lionfish tournaments, such as the Treasure Coast Lionfish Safari; and eat more lionfish. They’re becoming more common in area grocery and specialty stores. The meat is light, mild, flaky — and delicious. Prepare it the way you’d prepare any other fish, including sauteed; or raw, as in ceviche. Do not handle the fish unless you wear thick gloves and know what you’re doing. If you’re fishing and catch a lionfish, kill it. There are no limits of any kind on lionfish; you can take any size fish, any time of the year, in any quantity.

For information on the Fort Pierce City Marina and events there, visit fortpiercecitymarina.org.For more information about lionfish, visit oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lionfish.html.

IF YOU GO
What: Treasure Coast Lionfish Safari
When:
Saturday and Sunday, June 9-10 (mandatory Captains Meeting 5:30 p.m. June 8)
Where: River Walk Center, 600 N. Indian River Drive, at the Fort Pierce Marina (Captains Meeting: Sailfish Brewing Co., 130 N. Second St., Fort Pierce)
Admission: free for visitors (boat registration costs $125 for a team of up to four, $40 for an individual)
Parking: free
Event hours: Saturday, June 9, noon to 7 p.m.; 4 p.m.: initial fish weigh-in. Sunday, June 10: 1 to 7 p.m.; 4 p.m.: final fish weigh-in.