Gulf of Mexico lionfish population is rising, no known predators except humans

There are no known predators in gulf waters

SARASOTA -   "Gulf waters are in jeopardy," said Allie ElHage of Sarasota. 

ElHage is an avid diver and spear fisherman.

A little more than two years ago, ElHage designed a containment tube called the ZooKeeper.  And it has one specific use.

"To put lionfish in," ElHage said.

With no known predator, the lionfish population is exploding in recent years in the Gulf of Mexico.

"Lionfish are a very beautiful fish," ElHage explained.

But ElHage says that beauty masks its venomous spines and the fish are having their way with just about every species in the gulf marine food chain.

"Lionfish are gluttonous eaters.  They're going to stuff their stomach up as much as they can every single day," he said.

With a female capable of producing 20,000 to 30,000 eggs in less than a week, the lionfish are now being targeted by divers in an effort to help control their numbers.  

Even the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission views the recreational diver as the first and only line of defense to help combat the lionfish population in the Gulf of Mexico.

"Until there is a natural predator, somebody has to maintain the population of lionfish as low as possible," said ElHage.

At Florida Underwater Sports in Sarasota, Carl Badgley says more and more divers are taking an interest in the lionfish and wanting to know how they can help control the population.

"The realities with the lionfish is, as it becomes more prevalent, we are getting more education," Badgley said.

For ElHage, he's eager for all divers to get involved and help protect the very habitat that attracts them.

"The more divers we have out there targeting lionfish, the better is is for our marine ecosystem," he said.

No fishing license is required to hunt the lionfish and there are no limits as to how many can be harvested.  

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