The Emerald Coast Reef Association is busy trying to save our fishery from an invasive species, the Lionfish.

Lionfish pose the greatest threat our fishery has ever faced. Yes, greater than the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and greater than all human fishing combined.  How can I say that?  Well, we have the technology to clean up oil spills and we have regulators and law enforcement that control fishing pressure by humans, but the lionfish have no respect for the law, and we have no technology that can control the population explosion of the lionfish.

A single lionfish releases up to 2 million eggs per year. The eggs contain venom which discourages predation by our native species. When the eggs hatch, the fry (baby lionfish) are already armed with venomous spines that protect them from predation for their entire lifespan. 

Lionfish have no natural predators in our waters so their population is exploding and threatening the survivability our native fish.  Lionfish are known to eat 56 species of our native fish including red snapper, grouper and triggerfish. 

Our scientists have found that they eat our prey fish at unsustainable rates.  Our native fish rely on prey fish for their survival.  During stomach content surveys, up to 30 baby fish have been discovered in the stomach of a single lionfish.  This is serious and the future health and sustainability of our fishery depends on our state creating a viable, aggressive lionfish population control program.

We have a tournament that is scheduled to begin Sept. 14 and run through Oct. 13.  ECRA’s “Don Gaetz Champion of the Fishery Award” will win $2,500 this year! First place is $1,000, second place is $750 and third place will take home $500.   You can win $100 for the largest and smallest fish entered in the tournament.  

The entry fee is only $25 per team of 2 divers, so everyone can afford to enter!  We are also hosting a FREE Lionfish educational workshop Sept. 12 at Discovery Dive World from 6:30-8 p.m. For more info, contact me at    

ECRA is conducting a survey of divers in Florida to better understand how to create the most effective population control program.  We need help getting the word out to divers that we want their input. The survey is at the top center of our webpage at   

We support population control measures because we believe that is our fishery’s only hope of survival at this point. Our state and federal government researchers have been researching the lionfish for almost three decades, and while the information they have gathered is valuable toward understanding the seriousness of the problem, they have no understanding of how to solve the problem at this time. 

In order to give the scientists more time to investigate possible solutions, we need to be able to control the populations so that our native species can survive.

ECRA presented a lionfish population control program proposal to the FWC in June of this year.  The proposal would provide a no-cost to taxpayer incentive and an extremely low administrative cost.  The FWC wants to look at many proposals and so they have put together a lionfish summit to look at multiple ideas. For the first time since the lionfish were first spotted off Florida’s Atlantic Coast 28 years ago, the FWC has added lionfish population control to their agenda for consideration. The summit will be held in Cocoa Beach Oct. 22-24, and ECRA will have representation there. 

Time is of the essence. Already, the fishery in the Bahamas is collapsing.  We don’t have the luxury of time to ponder the problem; the lionfish are here and they are already reducing our native fish populations. 


Candy Hansard is vice president and reef deployment director for theEmerald Coast Reef Association Inc. Learn more