Everyone knows there are “sea horses”, “sea cows”, “catfish”, and “dogfish” but a ”turkeyfish”? Is there such a thing as a “turkey fish”? Well yes there is!… its scientific name is Pterois volitans but most know it as the LIONFISH. Yep, our old friend the lionfish.
Some of us first heard about the lionfish several years ago during trips to the Florida Keys but in recent years we are hearing about in our own local waters. Actually, some studies suggest there are more here than in the Keys. The recent red tide backs this up… we had at least 75 dead lionfish was ashore in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties; probably many more uncounted. We asked Dr. Chris Stallings of the University of South Florida whether he thought lionfish may be more susceptible to red tide toxin (brevotoxin) and he responded “probably not… you just have more lionfish in the western panhandle!”
Many of us have been hearing and reading about local lionfish since 2010 – so what is the status of this fish this Thanksgiving?
Well, they’re still here. There have been several derbies held along the panhandle over the past two years and they have removed close to 10,000 fish in Escambia County alone – but these guys breed fast and the population is still there. A few divers have obtained their salt water products license and have begun selling to local and regional restaurants. But they are having a hard time supplying fish as fast as the demand has been for them.
State and local agencies and nonprofits will continue to educate the public about the potential impacts of this invader and provide more tournaments this spring to encourage local divers to remove as many as we can. Research is ongoing for an effective, by-catch reducing, trap to be used to harvest them and Dr. Jeff Ebles with the University of West Florida will continue to survey for the fish within Pensacola Bay. All of these efforts will hopefully begin to stabilize their population growth and – eventually – a downward slide in their numbers. Until then, enjoy eating lionfish…
Hmmm… a new Thanksgiving tradition… “turkeyfish”… hmmm