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The popular, prickly aquarium fish first got loose into the Atlantic Ocean in the mid-1980s, and more may have been released during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Now, they span waters from the Caribbean to Rhode Island.

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission moved forward this week with the proposed ban and several other measures to tame the lionfish invasion.

The other proposals include:

• Banning the development of aquaculture of lionfish.

• Allowing the harvest of lionfish when diving with a rebreather, a device that recycles air and allows divers to remain in the water for longer periods of time.

• Increasing opportunities for people in approved tournaments and other organized events to spear lionfish or other invasive species in areas where spearfishing is currently not allowed. This will be done through a permitting system.

Commissioners approved the proposed ban and other measures at their meeting Wednesday in Havana, Fla. The ban and other measures will be brought back before the commission at its June meeting in Fort Myers for final approval.

FWC staff also is working with the Legislature on a bill to support the proposed import ban of live lionfish and aquaculture of the fish.

"By targeting the importation of lionfish to our state, we can limit the number of new lionfish that find their way into Florida waters and, at the same time, encourage further harvest to reduce the existing invasive population," State Rep. Holly Raschein, sponsor of the House bill, said in a release. "These fish pose a significant threat to Florida's ecosystem, and I am proud to stand in support of the proposed ban. Anything we can do to limit new lionfish introductions and further facilitate the development of a commercial market for this invasive species is a step in the right direction."

Last year, FWC hosted the first-ever Lionfish Summit, held in Cocoa Beach, for scientists, divers, regulators and others to brainstorm solutions. This week's proposed changes came from ideas discussed at the summit.

These flamboyant fish have been on a destructive path for decades that in recent years has reached the Indian River Lagoon.

The popular, prickly aquarium fish first got loose into the Atlantic Ocean in the mid-1980s, and more may have been released during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Now, they span waters from the Caribbean to Rhode Island.

Nobody knows for sure when lionfish came roaring into the lagoon, but in 2010, two Florida Tech students spotted several inside Sebastian Inlet. Since then, the ferocious fish has been found inside Port Canaveral. They've also been seen in the lagoon proper around seawalls, pilings and worst of all — mangroves, a key nursery for prized grouper, snapper and other commercial significant species. Hundreds have been found far inland inside Jupiter Inlet.

In June, Florida made it easier for divers to rid state waters of lionfish and kill as many of the dreaded fish as they can. The FWC decided to waive the recreational license requirement for divers harvesting lionfish using certain gear. Commissioners also voted to exclude lionfish from the commercial and recreational bag limits.

Those who have tried the fish swear by the white, flaky, non-fishy taste. Cleaning a lionfish presents a thorny situation, though, for those who want to eat them. The fish has sharp dorsal, pelvic and anal spines with venom.

But they're easy to filet, those who eat them say, and the spines can be cut off.

REEF's website — www.reef.org — offers tips on how to prepare them and information about what restaurants serve lionfish.

But developing a commercial market has been a challenge, because the fish is difficult to mass harvest.

People spear them or catch them with small nets, or in traps intended for crabs.

But can we rid Florida waters of the fierce fish?

One FWC abstract from last year's lionfish summit in Cocoa Beach said eradication was "unfeasible due to both financial and logistical limitations."

Contact Waymer at 321-242-3663 or jwaymer@floridatoday.com

More information

To learn more about these changes, visit MyFWC.com/Commission and "Commission Meetings." To learn more about lionfish, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on "Saltwater," "Recreational Regulations" and "Lionfish."

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