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Researchers are working to find out why the Lionfish population is taking a dive

Drop in Lionfish population
Posted at 3:33 PM, Feb 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-22 15:33:48-05

NAPLES, Fla. — There's no doubt Lionfish are a problem, since they crowd our native fish like Grouper, in our Gulf waters.

“We definitely don’t want to see them here, they’re an invasive species”, said Captain Bill D’Antuono Owner and Operator of Naples Offshore Fishing Charters.

The state is getting it’s wish. Researchers with Florida Fish and Wildlife say fewer Lionfish are being seen on Florida reefs frequently used by divers. They're not sure why, but they believe it will help to know why they have thrived in Florida waters in the first place.

“This is the first time we’ve had a invasive species in a marine environment that has been successful here, and so we don’t have a crystal ball, we don’t know exactly what they means for the future but it is something to take note of”, said Amanda Nalley spokesperson for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

One theory is that people who fish and dive in Florida waters are taking the state's advice, to get rid of them whenever they can.

“That’s one of the things that we’ve done with encouraging people to remove them, education the public about them, so to see their populations go down it’s definitely a positive sign but we don’t know what it means for the future,” said Nalley.

I also checked in with a professional diver who's in close touch with Lionfish researchers. He says they believe any number of reasons could be bringing down the Lionfish numbers.

“Interactions with humans, that are the Lionfish derbies that are removing hundred of thousands of them through out the gulf, and they believe it could be related to a disease but they are still studying that right now, said D’Antuono

Whatever the reason, he refers to the shrinking Lionfish population as an "event”, a welcome one!

“They were waiting for an event like this because you know it’s an invasive species in a different area, Lionfish aren’t use to being in our waters so this is the event that everyone has kind of been anticipating”, said D’Antuono

FWC and experts also do not encourage removing Lionfish without prior training and equipment. They have very sharp spines that can be painful, but it you don't remove, the state says you should at least report them to the fish and wildlife website or hotline.