Lionfish: Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans) and Devil Firefish (Pterois miles)
Lionfish are an invasive species that have a potential negative impact on native wildlife and habitat. FWC encourages divers, anglers and commercial harvesters to remove lionfish in Florida waters to limit negative impacts to native marine life and ecosystems.
Learn more about FWC's agency initiatives for invasive lionfish in our 2017 Action Items Summary.
Minimum Size Limit: None
Daily Bag Limit: Unlimited
Harvest Season: Open year-round
These regulations apply in Gulf and Atlantic state and federal waters
A recreational fishing license is not required for recreational fishers targeting lionfish while using a pole spear, a Hawaiian Sling, a handheld net or any spearing device that is specifically designed and marketed exclusively for lionfish.
A recreational fishing license (unless exempt) is required for all other methods of harvesting lionfish including hook and line.
The sale of commercially harvested lionfish requires a Saltwater Products License.
A permit is required to harvest lionfish in the no-take zones of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Permits are issued by the Sanctuary following training provided by the Sanctuary and the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF). Visit FloridaKeys.NOAA.gov or REEF.org for more information.
The FWC only issues permits to tournaments, dive clubs or other organized events that want to remove lionfish and other invasive species by spearfishing in areas where spearing is not allowed. To apply for a special event non-native species removal permit or for questions, email Lionfish@MyFWC.com.
Legal Gear: hook and line, spear, hand-held nets and any otherwise legal harvest gear.
Spears may not be used:
- Within 100 yards of a public swimming beach, any commercial or public fishing pier, or any part of a bridge from which public fishing is allowed.
- Within 100 feet of any part of a jetty that is above the surface of the sea - except for the last 500 yards of a jetty that extends more than 1,500 yards from the shoreline.
- In Monroe County from Long Key north to the Miami-Dade County line.
- In any body of water under the jurisdiction of the Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Recreation and Parks (Florida Park Service). Possession of spearfishing equipment is prohibited in these areas, unless it is unloaded and properly stored.
Harvest by hand-held nets is allowed in all of these situations.
Divers using rebreathers are permitted to spear and remove lionfish.
The importation of live lionfish, breeding lionfish and the harvest and possession of lionfish eggs and larvae for any purpose other than destruction is prohibited (all 10 species of the genus Pterois). Lionfish caught in both state and federal waters off Florida can be landed in Florida and sold live in the aquarium trade. Must have documentation that the lionfish was imported prior to Aug. 1, 2014, and hold the appropriate wholesale or retail license. If you have a lionfish you can no longer take care of, call the FWC’s nonnative hotline at 888-IVE-GOT-1 for help finding a new home for your pet.
Native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, lionfish can be found year-round in Florida waters and from North Carolina to South America, including the Gulf of Mexico. They can be found in almost all estuarine and marine habitat types and have been found in waters up to 1,000 feet deep.
Rarely caught on hook-and-line, the most effective methods of removal are spearing and using a hand-held net. Care should be taken when spear fishing so that the spears do not impact and damage reefs.
Lionfish are also caught as bycatch in the commercial lobster and stone crab trap industry. There is evidence that lionfish are not actually getting stuck in traps but can come and go as they please, only being harvested when they happen to be inside the trap as it is being pulled up.
The practice of feeding lionfish to other predatory species while diving should be avoided because it is dangerous and illegal. It is also proven to not be effective.
- Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) online reporting form.
- USGS' Nonindigenous Aquatic Species (NAS) website.
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is particularly interested in receiving information about sightings in the Gulf of Mexico. They also would like to receive specimens. View the instruction sheet on how to collect specimens and contact information for NOAA online.
Use care when handling lionfish, as they have up to 18 venomous spines on their dorsal, pelvic and anal fins that can cause painful stings. Stings can cause swelling, blistering, dizziness, necrosis and even temporary paralysis. If stung, immerse the wound in hot (not scalding) water for 30 to 90 minutes and seek medical attention if necessary.
How to Fillet a Lionfish
Filleting a lionfish is similar to filleting any other type of fish with the exception of using caution to avoid the spines located along the dorsal, pelvic and anal fins. If you put the fish on its side, you can easily hold the fish by the bony gill plates or soft pectoral fins without getting stuck with a venomous spine. One safety precaution is to wear puncture-resistant gloves. Some also choose to cut off the spines prior to filleting. Use care when doing this as the venomous glandular tissue located within the grooves of the spines are present even at the base of the spine. Furthermore, the venom can remain active in the spines even after the lionfish is dead and stored on ice.
Once you’ve gotten the spines under control, fillet like you would any other fish, making incisions just behind the spines on the head down to the belly, down the back of the fish near the dorsal spines and along the bottom of the fish, joining the three cuts together. The skin can be peeled off from the cut closest to the head, or you can continue to cut the filet away from the body and then cut the filet from the skin after it has been removed from the body.