State agrees to lift ban on lionfish spearing in Collier waters

Lionfish. Submitted photo by Kevin Sweeney

Lionfish. Submitted photo by Kevin Sweeney

— Lionfish have a new nemesis in the waters off Collier County.

Spearfishermen would be able to target the invading non-native fish after a vote Wednesday in Tallahassee by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to lift a decades-old ban on spearfishing in state waters off Collier.

Naples Spearfishing League blogger Bill D’Antuono, who organized a petition drive to repeal the ban, said he’s already laying plans to hunt down the first legally speared lionfish.

“I’m definitely going to be there,” he said.

Lionfish, which pose an ecosystem threat as they spread around Florida waters, are rarely caught on hook-and-line, making spearfishing a valuable part of any control effort.

When an angler hooked a lionfish off North Naples in January, it triggered the petition and a push by Collier County commissioners to get the state to lift the ban.

County voters approved the ban on spearfishing in 1956 as a way to protect snook; the predecessor agency to the Conservation Commission and the state Legislature also put the ban on their books.

The state law might not be scratched until 2014, but spearfishing won’t have to wait for that. Spearfishing can resume in Collier County as soon as the Conservation Commission paperwork is done. A date hasn’t been set.

“I just hope it encourages the divers to go out and get as many of them as they can,” said Conservation Commission Commissioner Liesa Priddy, who represents Southwest Florida on the board.

The end of the ban doesn’t mean the end of all spearfishing rules in Collier County, where statewide laws still will apply. Those include a ban on spearing certain fish such as snook and sharks and a ban on spearfishing within 100 yards of beaches and fishing piers.

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