What’s the Problem with Lionfish in the Gulf?

A highly invasive species multiplying at an alarming rate!

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You might have seen a Lionfish in an aquarium and may even have one of your own. They are famously colorful creatures and have a very unique look. Long multiple fins surround their body that appear whisker-like or like a lion’s mane and they have vivid stripes. These stripes may be red, orange, black or brown on a body that is somewhat golden in color. They are also called Tigerfish due to their stripes and Devilfish or Scorpionfish because they sting. They have 13 to 18 of these venomous spines that are used only for defense. People who have had the misfortune of being stung experienced pain, nausea, vomiting and difficulty breathing but the stings are not fatal. The smallest of their species is only two inches long, but some grow to be almost nineteen inches in length. They usually average about 13 inches.

Lionfish in Florida Map
Lionfish are native to the Pacific Ocean, but unfortunately, Red Lionfish started being spotted off the southern Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico in the early 2000s. These are among the largest species of lionfish and can grow over 18 inches in length. Apparently, they came somehow from private aquariums which is highly unfortunate because they are a highly invasive species and have multiplied at an alarming rate. They are carnivores with very few if any natural predators to keep them in check and they have a voracious appetite for other fish which they can swallow whole. They particularly like Snapper and Grouper, which are also a favorite among patrons at local restaurants. Lionfish have even been known to eat their own - they are cannibals when other fish are unavailable! They reproduce at an incredibly high rate since females can release 30,000 eggs every week. They are very adaptive, easily occupy new habitats and can quickly overtake native species of other fish which they voraciously consume. They are drastically changing and disrupting the food chain for other fish and can cause a significant decline in the natural marine life ecosystem.

Fishing in Destin
This is obviously of great concern, especially in Destin since “the world’s luckiest fishing village” is also the harbor to the largest private charter fleet in the entire nation. Way before Destin became a famous vacation destination due to the shimmering sugary white quartz crystal beaches and jewel toned waters of the gulf it was founded upon the cornucopia of fish that still have a home here.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has been fighting back to thwart this invasive species. Ocean Reef Resorts is pleased to announce that AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar restaurant on Destin’s harbor will be hosting the 5th Annual Lionfish Removal & Awareness Festival as part of this vital cause. It is being held on May 18th and 19th at AJ’s. They have long been a champion of the fishing industry and is one of the hosts of the annual Destin Fishing Rodeo, which is a highly popular event that has occurred throughout the entire month of October every year since its inception back in 1948. Lionfish is quite delicious and composed of a flakey white filet that has a mildly sweet flavor with an almost buttery taste. They also are quite healthy to eat since they have higher heart-healthy Omega 3 fatty acids than other fish and are low in saturated fat. This is a tasty fish, but harvesting is difficult due to the venomous spines so they must be caught with spearfish gear and carefully handled for transport. They can be quite expensive, but hopefully, harvesting practices will improve to make them more readily available which would be a “win-win” situation. They would be a great treat on the dinner plate and eliminate a big problem in the gulf.

Fried Lionfish

FWC photo by Tim Donovan

The two-day event will feature filet demonstrations, family-friendly games, activities for adults as well as with booths about scuba diving, and current gulf conservation efforts. Drinks, live music and tasty samplings of Lionfish entrees and sandwiches will also be available! Other Destin area restaurants are also participating with conservation charity raising evenings with Lionfish samplings throughout the week as follows: May 10th Dewey Destin’s Harborside; May 11th Boshamps; May 12th Brotula’s Seafood House & Steamer; May 13th Rockin Tacos; May 14th Jackacuda’s Seafood and Sushi; May 15th Crab Trap and May 16th AJ’s.  There will also be a chance to participate in the “world’s largest Lionfish spearfishing tournament” which will be awarding cash prizes for a number of categories. Spearfishing contestants will have a “Captain’s Meeting” at AJ’s on May 16th at 7:00 pm. Lionfish Harvesting will begin at daylight on May 17th with Weigh-In Stations will be open till 11:00 am on May 19th. Winners will be announced with an Awards Ceremony later that day at 3:00 pm.

Plan on coming down to attend this unique, worthwhile event to help save the Gulf of Mexico and stay with us at Ocean Reef Resorts. We will provide you with a Destin vacation rental that will make this trip enjoyable, comfortable and magically memorable!