MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- Every year hundreds of boaters and divers take part in South Florida's popular two-day lobster mini-season but this year, you'll get a little something extra if you remove 10 lionfish from the water.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), divers who harvest 10 lionfish during the two-day sport season July 29-30th can take home one extra spiny lobster each day.
In addition, people who take a photo of their lionfish and lobster catch during the two-day season and post it on Facebook.com/LionfishReefRangers can get a "Be the Predator" T-shirt. One photo entrant will also win a lifetime saltwater fishing license via a drawing held shortly after the sport season.
"The FWC operates in a culture of innovation. Opportunities like this are a great way to get divers who are already in the water accustomed to removing lionfish," said Commissioner Brian Yablonski. "Our hope is that once lobster divers realize how easy it is to remove lionfish, they will continue to do so throughout the regular lobster season and beyond."
The invasion of lionfish throughout the Atlantic is considered as menacing to native wildlife as the Burmese python's incursion into Florida's Everglades. Both invasive species have thrived far from their native habitats, and their numbers have grown largely unchecked by anything except cold temperatures.
According to wildlife officials, lionfish off the southeast United States, Bahamas and the Caribbean harm indigenous fish because they eat important juvenile reef species, such as grouper and snapper.
Lionfish are gluttonous eaters. They eat anything it can fit in its mouth and so far, there's nothing in the ocean that eats the lionfish. They have spines that sting anything that comes in contact with them and even sharks are afraid of them.
With no predators or other mechanisms such as disease or parasites keeping the lionfish population under control in Florida at this time, harvest by divers is the primary means of lionfish removal.
Spearing or using hand-held nets are the most effective method of removing lionfish from Florida waters.
Lionfish have venomous spines but they are edible. When properly cleaned, lionfish yield a white meat that is considered a delicacy.
If you decide to go after lionfish, remember to always wear puncture-resistant gloves to protect yourself from the lionfish's venomous spines. The mane-like assemblage of spines that give the fish its lion-like appearance are tipped in poison that can cause severe pain, swelling, nausea, headaches and convulsions. However, the fish can be safely handled once the spines have been removed.
For the 2015 spiny lobster sport season only, divers will be allowed a single spiny lobster over the bag limit per day or each day that they also harvest 10 or more lionfish. Lionfish must be kept as proof of harvest while on the water. When off the water, a photo of harvesters with their 10 lionfish must be kept to document eligibility for harvesting an extra lobster. Lionfish must be harvested the same day and prior to taking the additional lobster. All other rules, including no spearfishing zones, apply.
The two-day spiny lobster recreational sport season (also known as mini-season) falls on the last Wednesday and Thursday of July each year before the Aug. 6 opening of the regular season. During this two-day season, the regular bag limit is six spiny lobster in state and federal waters of Biscayne National Park waters and off Monroe County, and 12 spiny lobster elsewhere. There is no bag limit for lionfish; harvesters can take as many as they want.
If the program is successful at encouraging lionfish removal, it could be continued in future years.
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