In hopes of getting a handle on the lionfish, a vivid orange invader that has been wreaking havoc on native species for the last 20 years, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is hosting the Lionfish Challenge, which urges local residents to do their part in ridding the waters of the troublesome fish.
Though native to the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, lionfish entered the Miami coast in the 1980s and has since infiltrated the western Atlantic Ocean. In Florida, the fish has almost no natural predators and rapidly devours smaller species that are critical to the local marine ecosystem and the economy.
To participate, the only requirement is that the lionfish must be captured in Florida waters. Hunters are competing for the title of Lionfish King or Queen, but the real end goal is to capture as many lionfish as possible — during the first week, more than 14,000 of the fish were caught. Ideally, in order to avoid interfering with other, valuable species, lionfish must be caught by spearfishing, which requires skilled divers to go into the water with spears.
It’s up to individuals to choose what happens to the fish next, and it’s worth noting that the fish are edible, and have lately made their way into supermarkets. According to Seafood Watch, an organization that rates the sustainability levels of our seafood choices, lionfish currently holds its highest rating of “best choice.”
Those who take out at least 50 fish in the competition will receive a commemorative shirt, while the top hunter will receive a lifetime saltwater fishing license, plus a magazine cover.
Meanwhile, several local chefs have committed to doing their part as well. In Florida, you can order lionfish at more than a dozen restaurants, including the Fish Company in Jacksonville, Food Shack in Jupiter, Fish Fish in Miami, Castaways in Marathon, and many others.