Can lionfish be harvested?

  • FWC encourages people to remove lionfish in Florida waters to limit negative impacts to
    native fish and wildlife. Lionfish can be speared, caught in hand-held nets or caught on
    hook and line.

What licenses are needed to harvest lionfish?

  • A recreational fishing license is not required for recreational fishers targeting lionfish while
    using a pole spear, a Hawaiian Sling, a handheld net or any spearing device that is
    specifically designed and marketed exclusively for lionfish. (In effect through August 2013 -
    read the new Executive Order  about lionfish harvesting)
  • A recreational fishing license (unless exempt) is required for all other methods of
    harvesting lionfish including hook and line.
  • There is no recreational or commercial harvest bag limit for lionfish.
  • The sale of commercial harvest of lionfish requires a saltwater products license.
  • A permit is required to harvest lionfish in the no-take zones of the Florida Keys National
    Marine Sanctuary. Permits are issued by the Sanctuary following training given by the
    Sanctuary and the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF).

What are the best methods to harvest lionfish?

  • Lionfish are best taken by using spears, but they can also be caught in hand-held nets.  
    They are rarely taken on hook and line.
  • Care should be taken when spear fishing so that the spears do not impact and damage

What are the rules for using spears?

Spears may not be used:
  • Within 100 yards of a public swimming beach, any commercial or public fishing pier, or any
    part of a bridge from which public fishing is allowed.
  • Within 100 feet of any part of a jetty that is above the surface of the sea - except for the last
    500 yards of a jetty that extends more than 1,500 yards from the shoreline.
  • In Collier County and in Monroe County from Long Key north to the Miami-Dade County line.
  • In any body of water under the jurisdiction of the Department of Environmental Protection,
    Division of Recreation and Parks (Florida Park Service). Possession of spearfishing
    equipment is prohibited in these areas, unless it is unloaded and properly stored.
  • Harvest by hand held nets is allowed in all of these situations.

Are lionfish poisonous?

  • Lionfish are venomous.  They have up to18 needle-like spines, each of which has a venom
    gland.  The venom is used as a defense mechanism and is injected when something
    presses against the tip of the spine. The meat of lionfish is not poisonous.

What should I do if I am stung by a lionfish?

  • Lionfish should be handled carefully; they have venom glands on the dorsal, pelvic and
    anal spines.
  • NOAA recommends treating a puncture wound by immersing the wound area in hot (not
    scalding) water for 30-90 minutes and to seek medical attention as soon as possible. The
    Poison Help Hotline at 1-800-222-1222 is available 24 hours a day, every day.
  • Unless a person is allergic to the venom, lionfish stings are very rarely fatal. Stings can be
    very painful, cause numbness, swelling, and even temporary paralysis.

Is it okay to eat lionfish?

  • It is legal to eat lionfish.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Florida Department of
    Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Florida Department of Health have not issued
    statements that it is safe to eat lionfish.

What should I do if I see a lionfish?

  • The FWC encourages divers and anglers to remove lionfish they encounter to help control
    the numbers of these invasive fish to Florida waters. Removing lionfish can help Florida's
    native marine fish and habitats.
  • People that are not comfortable removing lionfish can still report the sighting.

Where should I report lionfish sightings?

  • Lionfish can be reported to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF).  An
    online reporting form can be accessed at
  • Lionfish may also be reported by filling out an online report on the USGS' Nonindigenous
    Aquatic Species (NAS) website at
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is particularly interested in
    receiving information about sightings in the Gulf of Mexico.  They would also like to receive
    specimens. An link to an instruction sheet on how to collect specimens and contact
    information for NOAA is available online at

Where are lionfish native?

  • Lionfish are native to the reefs and rocky crevices of the south Pacific and Indian Oceans,
    but they are now found in most warm ocean habitats throughout the world.

How long have lionfish been in Florida waters?

  • Lionfish were first reported off Florida's Atlantic Coast near Dania Beach in 1985.
  • Beginning in 2000, the species was regularly seen off the southeast Atlantic coast of the U.
    S.  They are now commonly found through the Bahamas and the Caribbean (except the
    Lesser Antilles).
  • A recent sighting by a diver in January 2009 in the waters off Key Largo received
    national media attention. This was the first of many sightings in Florida Keys waters.
  • In the fall of 2010, a total of 654 lionfish were taken by divers over three days in
    separate "Lionfish Harvest Derbies" conducted in the Florida Keys.
  • Approximately 40 percent of Florida's recreational lobster fishers surveyed about
    their activities during the 2010 two-day sport dive season and August 2010 reported
    observing lionfish in the Florida Keys and Southeast Florida waters.
  • Recently, lionfish have been collected or observed in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

How far north have lionfish been observed?

  • Lionfish have been found as far north as the coast of Long Island, NY, but they are probably
    not able to survive the cold winters.

What do lionfish eat?

  • Juvenile lionfish eat mostly invertebrates, but shift their diet to fish as adults and eat reef
    fish.  Adult lionfish spread their pectoral fins and use them to "herd" prey.  This is a very
    effective predatory style as it is unfamiliar to native Florida fishes.
  • They also compete for food with native predatory fish such as grouper and snapper.
  • Lionfish can have negative effects on the overall reef habitat as they can eliminate
    organisms which serve important ecological roles (e.g. herbivorous fish which keep algae
    in-check on the reefs).

Do lionfish have any predators in Florida waters?

  • Lionfish do not appear to have any predators in Florida waters, although some grouper
    species have been observed to eat them.

How big do lionfish get?

  • Lionfish can grow to 15 inches but are usually not more than a foot long. They reach full
    adult size at about 2 years.

How often do lionfish reproduce?

  • Females release up to 30,000 eggs per spawn and can spawn 3 times/month.

What other organizations are working to remove/control lionfish?

  • Other organizations that are working to help control lionfish include REEF (Reef
    Environmental Education Foundation), NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric
    Administration), and USGS (United States Geological Survey).
  • The professional and recreational dive community is also working to help remove and
    control lionfish.

    Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission • Farris Bryant Building
    620 S. Meridian St. • Tallahassee, FL
    32399-1600 • (850) 488-4676

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