Let’s talk straight. Lionfish are a challenge. Native to the Indian Ocean and South Pacific, these beautiful yet venomous creatures are spreading through our waters like a bad cold. Within their native range, lionfish fit nicely into the natural food web and their populations remain in check. But not in Florida. Our native predatory fish are simply not ordering the new and bizarre-looking menu item, leaving little to control the lionfish population.
Initial sightings of lionfish in Florida waters began in the mid-1980s. The rarity of sightings initially made it difficult for biologists to assess the significance of the problem. As we were gathering data, the species spread slowly, but methodically, infiltrating the Caribbean and waters off the Atlantic Coast and Bermuda. By the 2000s, the story became much clearer, as many countries within the invaded range witnessed dramatic lionfish population increases and were forced to initiate control programs.
All hope that Florida might somehow be spared was eliminated during the past few years as we began to witness a population explosion of our own along the southeast coast, including the Florida Keys. Today, we are seeing them in places we’ve never seen them before, including the northern areas of the Gulf of Mexico, as their numbers are increasing rapidly.