Tomorrow at the April Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) meeting in Havana, Florida, three draft rules pertaining to lionfish will be proposed. The draft rules are:
- Modifying FWC’s diving rule (68B-4.012, Florida Administrative Code [FAC]) and lionfish rule (68B-5.006, FAC) to create an exception allowing persons diving by means of a rebreather to harvest lionfish
- Creating a new rule (68B-20.004, Exception to Statewide Spearing Prohibitions) to allow FWC to issue permits to tournaments or other approved organized events for the purposes of harvesting lionfish or other non-native invasive species using spearfishing gear in areas where spearing is prohibited
- Creating a new rule (68-5.005, FAC) in the FWC non-native species regulations to prohibit the importation and aquaculture of lionfish in Florida
In addition to the rulmaking process, FWC is also working directly with the Florida Legislature on two so-called “lionfish ban bills” currently under consideration.
What’s in a Name?
The non-native lionfish has become invasive in Florida, where studies have shown it is having a significant impact on native fish populations. Fighting the “lionfish invasion” is, for most people, a popular proposition whether it’s by legislation or administrative rulemaking.
A number of critics have, however, expressed concern that the language currently employed in both the bills and the draft rules is problematic. Specifically, they argue that defining lionfish as “any fish of the genus Pterois” is over-reaching, as only two species in the genus (P. miles and P. volitans) are established in Florida waters at present.
“Restricting [non-invasive lionfish species] from import simply because they are related to the invasive species could cause unwarranted economic impacts to the trade. If we are going to restrict import of all Pteroids, then should we also look at other ornamental species or families in the trade that could cause harm and enact sweeping legislation? If restrictions based on potential harm are going be made, then they should be made equitably across the board and with solid information.”
FWC defends its decision to include all species from the genus, saying that doing so will hopefully “prevent the introduction of other lionfish species not yet found in Florida waters.” Given this logic, perhaps imports of lionfishes from the genus Dendrochirus–the popular dwarf lionfishes–should also be banned.
The slope becomes very slippery very quickly…