TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
The Pterois, commonly known as the lionfish, is native to the Indo-Pacific region, but has become an invasive species in the Gulf of Mexico. To assist in population control, the Tyndall Dive Flight has been participating in a statewide competition for lionfish hunters.
“The Tyndall Dive Flight has a lot of members, and if they are not competing in the competition they are hunting them recreationally on their own,” said Lt. Col. David D. Troxell, Air Force Civil Engineer Center explosive ordnance disposal division chief and Tyndall Dive Flight president. “We have one member that came in fourth at a commercial competition for the state. Most of the divers involved in the club are just going on their own, and do it for the joy of diving.”
With no natural predators in this region of the world, their numbers have gone for the most part unchecked. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has created a competition to help keep the species’ numbers under control.
According to the FWC’s website, the fish was first reported off the Florida’s Atlantic Coast near Dania Beach in 1985, and have since expanded its population up and down the East Coast.
“This year I had the most lionfish kills for the amateur division: 1,250 lionfish is what I turned in,” said Ken Ayers Jr., Tyndall Dive Flight member. “The lionfish itself was an aquarium fish, normally is from the Indo-Pacific area. They became so prolific, mainly because of the way they reproduce. They eject an egg sack and it stays intact and goes up a jet stream or current up the East Coast.
“As they hatch, they drop babies off, which is why it is going to be impossible to eradicate them, but they can be controlled,” he added.
Ayers, an avid diver, has been participating in the recreational sport for a number of years. He has since coupled his love for diving with assisting in the Panama City, Florida, lionfish population control effort.
“I love diving, I almost have 1,700 logged dives,” Ayers said. “I have 155 dives this year alone. For this area it’s kind of hard to do. I started getting into spear fishing a little bit, I’m not a real big spear fisherman, but I’m pretty good at it. I much prefer to shoot lionfish because they are invasive. Every now and again I’ll shoot a grouper or red snapper for myself or a neighbor. It’s pretty exciting and additive.
“This is my third year shooting [lionfish]. My first year I think I shot 95, year two just over 300 and this year I decided to compete. To actually compete in the competition you have to get the lionfish and cut their tails off and turn them into one of the collection centers,” he added.
Ayers went on to explain the process of hunting the fish.
“They are not difficult to hunt,” Ayers said. “Once you get down there, they don’t really run from you. If they do run, you can pretty much out run them, they have a lot of fins and they are not really afraid of much. They are beginning to become afraid of divers, but they like to stay in their area.”
As the lionfish population control continues, members of the Tyndall Dive Flight will provide their aid.
“We are doing a pretty good job with it, but recreational divers can only go so deep. The fish are at the deeper depths, luckily, most of the local fisheries, the little fish like the shallower depths. Hopefully we can maintain our fisheries here,” Ayers concluded.
For more information about the Tyndall Dive Flight visit their Facebook page www.facebook.com/tyndalldiveflight.