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Let's Kill'em...and Eat'em

You might consider it to be the prettiest fish in the ocean. Or the ugliest. Or perhaps the tastiest.

Your call.

Whatever, the Pterois volitans, best known as the lionfish, is one big pain in the anal fin for those interested in the future of Florida fishing.

We need to kill them (and eat them) and maybe even make some money along the way.The lionfish is an invader to our waters from the South Pacific. And it puts rabbits to shame in the reproduction department. A single female can drop a couple million eggs per year. In our complex ecosystem of reefs and rocky areas of varied depths many of the eggs are slurped up by other fish, including our popular snappers and groupers. Moreover, being the cannibals they are, lionfish feast on their young as well. The fast-growing lionfish youngsters, however, in turn, gobble up our established juvenile fish whose species' life histories do not include encounters with this stranger.

The result, over the past several decades, has been a population explosion that flourishes mainly because the lionfish has virtually no large-scale predators to worry about.

That's where you may come in, as a helpful predator.

More and more lionfish tournaments, or derbies or roundups, are being put on. That's when you can free-dive, use scuba gear, spears and nets to collect the rascals and enter them for prizes and sport. There are no size or bag limits.

With so many fish growing so fast, it may seem like a hopeless task to try and round them up a few at a time. But in just one series of events, 16,000 of the critters were taken. It makes a difference.

Tips on handling them (they do carry a venom on the dorsal spines) are readily available and once cleaned the meat is rated very highly.

As far as putting a dent in the lionfish population, a friend's recent experience may be of interest. A diver-angler himself, Dan Kratish went for a look-see drift off Cancun. He saw tons of reef fish. But one was missing. No lionfish.

Dan was told that the fishing guides themselves take the occasional invading lion in order to protect their native fish (and sometimes enjoy a few fillets). So, it looks like a battle we might win. We commend the effort.

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