At its April meeting in Tallahassee, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) discussed exciting new lionfish removal incentive opportunities and also approved management changes to the king mackerel fishery.
2017 Lionfish Challenge
FWC staff gave a report to the Commission reviewing the successes and lessons learned from the 2016 lionfish removal incentive programs and proposing the implementation of a new and exciting statewide 2017 Lionfish Challenge.
More than 164,000 lionfish were removed from Florida waters between May and December 2016 thanks to members of the public who participated in commercial harvest, recreational incentive programs and fishing tournaments.
The newly proposed four-month statewide program for 2017 will include prizes and reward tiers and, for the first time, separate categories for recreational and commercial harvesters in an effort to better celebrate the lionfish removal contributions of both groups. The winners from these categories will be crowned the Lionfish King/Queen and Commercial Champion, respectively, along with a variety of incentives and rewards provided to participants across the duration of the Challenge.
“It is promising to hear the FWC’s removal incentive programs are effectively encouraging divers to remove lionfish to a point that stakeholders are reporting fewer lionfish on easily accessible reefs,” said Chairman Brian Yablonski. “The agency is committed to continually trying new and innovative ways to combat this invasion, and to control the lionfish population.”
The Challenge begins on Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day, the first Saturday after Mother’s Day (May 20, 2017), and continues through Labor Day, Sept. 4. Participants that remove at least 25 lionfish recreationally or 25 pounds commercially (with a saltwater products license) will gain entry into the program and be rewarded with the opportunity to take an additional spiny lobster each day during the two-day sport season (July 26-27, 2017), as well as receive a newly updated 2017 commemorative coin and T-shirt.
The FWC hopes to see the public rally behind the effort and remove at least 50,000 lionfish statewide in 2017/2018 through the Lionfish Challenge and other removal activities.
Program details and information on how to participate will be posted on MyFWC.com/Lionfish.
The FWC is also hosting a lionfish awareness event along with Diving Equipment & Marketing Association (DEMA) at the Florida Capitol Courtyard in Tallahassee from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 25. Attend this event for a chance to taste lionfish and learn more about the invasion.
Commissioners also approved commercial and recreational changes to king mackerel management in Florida state waters that will make state regulations consistent with new rules for federal waters that take effect May 11.
Approved changes include:
Setting the Gulf/Atlantic state waters management boundary line, which used to shift from the west coast during the summer season to the east coast during the winter season, to be at the Monroe/Miami-Dade county line year-round.
Increasing the recreational bag limit south and west of the Monroe/Miami-Dade county line from two to three fish per person.
Clarify that commercial harvesters taking king mackerel north of the Monroe/Miami-Dade county line must adhere to federal commercial vessel limits when fishing in state waters.
A press release will be issued announcing the new regulations for state waters when they take effect. Check MyFWC.com/Fishing for updates.