Lionfish around Anna Maria Island are a non-native invasive species. Naturally occurring in Indo-Pacific waters, Lionfish came to the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic and Caribbean waters from exotic pet owners releasing their collections. The first sighting of the Lionfish came in 1985 on the Florida Atlantic coast at Dania Beach. Since then, Lionfish have been spotted as far north as Rhode Island in the summer. However, they cannot survive North Atlantic winters.
A very interesting fish, there are actually two species that are visually identical. Almost all Lionfish found around Anna Maria Island are Red Lionfish, commonly known as Lionfish or Devil Firefish. They are a beautiful species with white, brown and red Zebra like stripes. They also have 18 venomous spines along the front of the dorsal, pelvic and anal fins. The meat and flesh of the Lionfish are not poisonous. In fact, its delicious!
Lionfish have an extreme impact on their non-native environment because they have no naturally occurring predators. They are reef dwellers that compete for food with natural species like Yellowtail Snapper. Lionfish will also stalk their prey and use their long flowing spines to herd prey into corners of reef type environments. Lionfish create an imbalance in the reef environment by harming species of organisms that keep algae in check.
FWC and other organizations encourage anglers to take as many of the species from gulf and Atlantic waters as they can. There are no bag or size limits. The best way to control this species is through removal with FWC giving incentives for individuals who do so.
A fishing license is required for individuals using a hook and line method for catching Lionfish. It is not required for spearing devices exclusively for Lionfish such as a Hawaiian Sling, pole spear or handheld net. A license is required for commercial sales of Lionfish. There are spearfishing restrictions listed on the FWC website. FWC provides incentives such as a 2015 initiative allowing anglers one extra Spiny Lobster over bag limit for each 10 Lionfish caught per person on July 29 and 30th.
In cooperation between FWC, The Gulf Coast Lionfish Coalition and the Reef Rangers, in 2015 a new event was created. This event helps remove Lionfish and promote awareness of their invasion. The Second Annual Lionfish Awareness Day tournament will happen May 14-15, 2016. Hosted in Pensacola, FL the event is free to attend. Participating anglers can win awards. Patrons enjoy tastings, filet demonstrations and family activities. Awareness day kicks off a statewide program going through the end of September encouraging Lionfish harvesting. Find details here about the 2016 Lionfish Challenge and Panhandle Pilot Program. If you aren’t comfortable removing Lionfish you can also report a sighting here.
Lionfish around Anna Maria Island
Typically Lionfish aren’t caught by hook and line, but by spear or handheld net. Local company Blue Water Explorer Dive Charters offers regularly scheduled spear fishing tours. They encourages patrons to take as many Lionfish as they can during a fishing session. Captain Bob Eskew says “We welcome certified divers to take as many lionfish as possible on any of our charters. I ask only that hunters have the proper collection equipment to avoid unnecessary injury from the lionfish spines”. While visiting Anna Maria Island Blue Water Explorer Dive Charters is your best bet for catching this species.
How to Fillet a Lionfish
Below is a great youtube video from FWC on proper techniques to fillet a Lionfish. It is imperative to use caution when handling this species. They are venomous, and can inflict a very painful “sting”. Reports of Lionfish stings vary greatly depending on how many spines puncture the skin, and personal tolerance. Stings take a few minutes to feel painful as venom works its way into the body. It is highly recommended to seek medical attention as stings can cause extreme pain. In rare situations a sting can cause temporary paralysis, and can lead to infection.
This fish is offers a firm delicate texture, and a flavor similar to Mahi Mahi. Lionfish is high in Omega 3’s and low in saturated fat and heavy metals. Lionfish can prepared in many ways making it a versatile addition to your diet. Check out the Pinterest Board “Anna Maria Island Local Seafood and Recipes” for dozens of suggested preparations.
Enjoy Anna Maria Island just like the locals do, and try out some of our locally sourced seafood selections!
Anna Maria Island Accommodations and Vacation Rentals
When planning your Anna Maria Island fishing trip check out AnnaMariaIsland.com for a large selection of beach rentals!