Responding to a venomous lionfish invasion in Florida’s coastal waters, UCF will co-host a community workshop Thursday, June 18, about the species that’s threatening native fish and how to get rid of them.

The Invasive Lionfish Collecting and Handling Workshop will be held 6-8 p.m. in the UCF Biology Field Research Center, Bldg. 92 on Ara Drive on the southeast corner of the main campus. The workshop, hosted in partnership with the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, Marine Discovery Center and Sea Dogs Dive Center, is free and open to the public, but registration is required here.

Lionfish invasion presents a major threat to Florida’s natural ecosystem. Native to the South Pacific and Indian oceans, lionfish have been noticed along the U.S. Atlantic coast since 1985. More recently they have been spotted throughout the Caribbean and are spreading quickly.

Invasive lionfish consume many fish species and have only one known predator: humans. Lionfish spines deliver a venomous sting that can last for days and cause extreme pain, respiratory distress and even paralysis.

Marine biologists believe lionfish invasion is a result of people releasing their aquarium fish into coastal waters, something that should be prevented, said Linda Walters, a UCF biology professor who helped bring the workshop to campus. The maroon-and-white striped fish can lay 30 thousand to 40 thousand eggs every four days, which is part of the reason the species is thriving.

“Lionfish invasion is having a drastic impact on marine environment,” said Martha Klitzkie, director of operations at REEF. The organization says lionfish consume more than 70 species of fish. In heavily invaded sites lionfish have reduced their fish prey populations by up to 90 percent and continue to consume native fishes at unsustainable rates.

Walters said lionfish are allowed to be speared and caught in Florida waters, and, although venomous, are excellent to eat when prepared properly.

The workshop will offer historical, biological and practical information about the lionfish species, including their ecological impact, collecting tools and techniques, ways to get involved in reducing their numbers and even how to fillet a lionfish, which has become a popular menu item.

Attendees to the program will also be invited to participate in lionfish hunting dives sponsored by Sea Dogs Dive Center in New Smyrna Beach or go out on their own on Friday, June 19. For reservations, call 386-424-1644. Following the dive, a 4 p.m. lionfish weigh-in and cookout will be hosted at the Marine Discovery Center, 100 Barracuda Blvd., New Smyrna Beach.