Gaetz proposes Reef Assassin Act targeting lionfish

Special to The Log
A few of the lionfish brought to the docks recently in Destin weighed in the 2-3 pounds range. [TINA HARBUCK/THE LOG]

Congressman Matt Gaetz is taking aim at lionfish invading the waters along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts by introducing the Reef Assassin Act.

The Reef Assassin Act amends the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to encourage the elimination of lionfish from local waters. It allows individuals to trade dead lionfish for tags authorizing fishing for coveted reef fish. This legislation will give anglers one tag in exchange for 100 lionfish tails.

“By providing red snapper, bay grouper, triggerfish, and amberjack tags to those who kill lionfish, we can use our resources to protect our resources,” Gaetz said.

The lionfish population has exploded over the last three decades, and they can now be found throughout the Atlantic coast, the Bahamas and the Gulf of Mexico. A single female lionfish can release 30,000 eggs every two to four days — 2 million eggs per year.

“Incentives matter. They can be a power motivator for getting more Floridians engaged in lionfish eradication. We applaud Congressman Gaetz for his new incentives-based legislation, and for bringing creative solutions and heightened awareness to the lionfish threat,” said Brian Yablonski, chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Lionfish harm coral reefs by eating the native reef fish at an alarming rate. They have no natural predators in local waters, causing their population to grow rapidly. They have caused billions of dollars of economic damage.

“For three decades, scientists have documented the decline in the health of our native fisheries due to the lionfish population explosion, and yet, the regulatory agencies charged with protecting our fisheries have taken no action to minimize the environmental devastation. Thank you, Congressman Gaetz, and to all cosponsors of this legislation, for taking action,” said Candy Hansard, president of the Emerald Coast Reef Association.

“The lionfish is threatening the sustainability of our native fisheries, ultimately harming our food supply and businesses. Congressman Matt Gaetz is showing true leadership in this area, protecting our native fisheries and local businesses,” said Destin City Councilman Parker Destin.

If nothing is done to mitigate the lionfish infestation, fisheries throughout the southeastern United States will be forced to close.

“I am grateful to have someone in Washington willing to take on issues that affect us here locally. The lionfish is thriving — at the expense of our native fish and reefs. It is time for us to stop monitoring the situation, and start addressing it,” said Collier Merrill, restaurateur with the Great Southern Restaurant Group.

The Reef Assassin Act has been introduced on the House floor.

The Reef Assassin Act has the support of the following cosponsors: Darren Soto, Francis Rooney, Tom Rooney, Al Lawson, Ron DeSantis, Alcee Hastings, Neal Dunn, John Duncan, Illeana Ros Lehtinen, Brian Mast, Ted Yoho and John Rutherford.