While fishing in about 10 feet of water on the hard-bottom reef patches just 200 yards from shore near the Ritz Carlton, Mike Damanski confirmed the inevitable when something unexpected showed up on the end of his line.
Damanski, who was out fishing with his mom and some friends for his birthday last week, landed a “15- or 16-ounce” red lionfish. The photo soon made the rounds on Facebook, unbeknown to Damanski that it was the first documented case of the species within the state water boundary of Collier County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Nonindigenous Aquatic Species database.
“When I pulled the lionfish up I don’t think anybody expected it,” Damanski said. “I know they are destroying our reefs so we killed it and tossed it in the cooler.” Make no mistake: lionfish are pigeons with a peacock’s plumage. And once they arrive, they can cause irreparable harm to the fragile underwater ecosystem. Lionfish have a voracious appetite, and will eat nearly anything that they can fit into their mouths. The fish can easily wipe out a population of juvenile fish that rely on the reef habitat for protection, and compete with native species such as snapper or the commercially crucial grouper for resources.