Florida officials have initiated an aggressive new strategy in hopes of preventing exotic lionfish from decimating fisheries.
A fishing license is not required to harvest the invaders by spear and hand-held nets. The license requirement still is in place for those who fish with hook and line, but lionfish rarely are taken by that method.
"They (divers) are our best possible chance to control them," said John Hunt, director of the Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute lab in the Florida Keys.
Hunt also acknowledged that the predatory fish from the South Pacific and Indian Ocean never will be eradicated from Florida waters.
Lionfish were first identified on Florida’s east coast in 1985, likely as a result of being released by aquarium hobbyists. Since 2009, however, sightings have become common all along the coast and up into the northern Gulf of Mexico.
Resource managers fear that they will outcompete native fish for food and eliminate organisms that keep reefs healthy.
"We don't have all the evidence yet, but we're concerned," Hunt said.