“[P]rohibiting the importation of live lionfish from anywhere–we may be shooting ourselves in the foot a little bit.”
– Lad Akins
A shooting simile may be appropriate when discussing lionfish control efforts in Florida, given that one of the most successful initiatives aimed at controlling lionfish has been to encourage recreational divers and spearfishers to harvest as many lionfish as possible. Lad Akins, who I interviewed last month for a feature in CORAL Magazine, presented public comment at today’s meeting of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) regarding FWC’s draft lionfish rules.
Akins, who is supportive overall of FWC’s efforts insofar as lionfish control efforts are concerned, touched on a couple of revisions he thinks may make the rules better. One of the rules that might be improved, he said, currently includes language which would ban all imports of lionfish to Florida. Here is an excerpt from Akins public comment:
I think the proposed rules that you have in front of you are very good. For most of the elements of the rule, I’m 100 percent supportive, but I think there are a couple of issues that need a little bit further consideration…. [Lionfish] do reproduce a lot–frequently throughout the year, but the eggs of those lionfish don’t stay where they’re spawned. Like most fish there’s a larval duration period, and it’s most likely that the fish we have in Florida are not coming from Florida fish. If you consider a 25-day larval duration of lionfish eggs and, let’s just say a three-knot Gulf Stream current, that’s about 1,800 miles of potential range. So our fish are probably coming from somewhere else in the Caribbean, and so, when we look at the proposed rule, prohibiting the importation of live lionfish from anywhere–we may be shooting ourselves in the foot a little bit. I certainly agree we should stop importing lionfish from their native range in the Indo-Pacific, which is where they’re imported from right now. But if we restrict importation of lionfish from other parts of the Caribbean, that may be inhibiting control in areas that would have the most effect on the Florida population…. If we can help encourage other countries to control lionfish populations in their area, we may have a greater effect on what’s actually happening in Florida waters.
Akins also expressed a concern about banning all of the species in the genus Pterois, when only two species in the genus (P. miles and P. volitans) are established in Florida waters at present. I discussed this point briefly in a blog entry and at length in the CORAL Magazine article.
The Commissioners did not take up either point in discussion at the meeting today, but an FWC spokeperson says FWC will continue to communicate with stakeholders on this issue before bringing it back to the Commission in June.
I very much agree with Lad Akin’s public comment. Rather than a prohibition on ALL imports, I’d like to see the ban placed on lionfish from waters other than the Atlantic. I don’t think that this would be difficult to enforce. Pet shops and other suppliers could be required to have some type of certificate of origin for any lionfish they sell. One could also envisage a surcharge on lionfish sales, with proceeds earmarked for control efforts in the state of Florida. This would allow other countries to benefit (through capture operations) while ensuring that Florida still retains a portion of sales revenue.
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