Friday, September 17, 2010

Divers hunt invasive lionfish

The lionfish is native of the Pacific and Indian oceans. In the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, it has no known predators and it reproduces rapidly. It is an invasive species – an aquatic form of the Brazilian pepper or the casaurina tree or Burmese pythons in the Everglades.

It is yet another case in which irresponsible people have released non-native critters into Florida's wilds with potentially disastrous results. They're sold for home aquariums but people often realize they're too aggressive and discard them.

In the Florida Keys recently, more than 100 divers turned out for the first Lionfish Derby, and they brought in more than 500 lionfish, reports.

For divers, catching the spiny critters can be a challenge. Their poisonous spikes can send victims to the hospital. "I heard one person describe that if it stung you on the arm, it wouldn't kill you but you would want to cut your arm off," a Boca Raton diver told WPLG Ch. 10.

They were first seen off Miami in the 1980s but last July a huge population was spotted of Key  Biscayne, and they've even shown up in the Loxahatchee River.

The lionfish likes to live near coral reefs, and that's a problem around Florida because it has a voracious appetite. It eats just about anything, including young grouper, snapper and other tropical fish.

With nothing apparently out there eating them, lionfish tend to take over. However, the Lionfish Derby may prove to be the solution to the problem. The fish is described as delicious with light, white and flakey meat, and derby participants wasted no time in frying them up or serving them in a citrus ceviche.

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