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August 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 29, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Can Congress Eliminate Lionfish?

from the August, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

We divers know too well the damage created by the rapidly reproducing, voracious lionfish invading coral reefs in the Atlantic and the Caribbean. Now lionfish has caught the attention of one non-diving U.S. Congressman. Steve Southerland, a Republican representing Florida's Second Congressional District (between Panama City and Tallahassee).

While attending a meeting on Gulf of Mexico fish management in Key West, he met with Bill Kelly, a diver and executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association, to learn about the lionfish that are now taking over the reefs in his home town of Panama City. Kelly showed Southerland a lionfish in an aquarium, and explained efforts now being considered to launch a commercial lionfish trapping program off Florida's coast.

"Thousands of recreational divers have observed growing numbers of them at Florida dive sites," said Kelly. "However, these densities pale in comparison to lionfish aggregations found deeper . . . our commercial lobster trappers have seen denser populations of lionfish in much deeper waters, from 100 to 300 feet," said Kelly. "By developing the right trapping methods, lionfish could become a very valuable consumer commodity while [we protect] our ecosystems." He says if a commercial trapping program gets started, "we'll tie in a consumer awareness and educational program, leading to bigger demand for these fish in more restaurants and grocery store fish counters."

Kelly says Southerland was "very concerned" and indicated he would call for a subcommittee hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee, on which he sits. However, given that this Congress believes government is the problem, not the solution, we can expect little to happen.

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