Teresa Hattaway, owner of Jim’s Dive Shop in St. Petersburg, knows first hand how painful a sting from a lionfish can be.
“I would say it was worse than a hundred bee stings at one time,” Hattaway said.
The beautiful but venomous lionfish are multiplying like crazy in gulf waters and eating everything in site.
They got here after people who didn’t want them as pets let them free in the ocean in the early 2000s.
So far the only hope to thin the numbers are divers. They use spears and specially designed tanks to collect them.
There are even fishing derbies held just to catch the tasty fish.
They are sold off to restaurants and seafood shops.
“They are such a good eating fish and with some of the other fisheries being closed this is a great way to go out and take some fish, and it is a lot of fun harvesting them,” said Hattaway.
But divers will soon have some help thanks to a non-profit called RISE, Robots in Service of the Environment.
Yes, a robot to catch lionfish.
“Honestly it’s a lot like a Play Station game," RISE executive director John Rizzi said. "You put the robot in the water. There is a tether back to the boat. It can dive very deep, but you are watching it. You are driving it, much like a game.”
The robot doesn’t kill the lionfish. It just stuns it and sucks the fish into a chamber.
“Chefs, we’ve been talking to love the way we do it, because when we bring them up to the boat, they are still alive,” said Rizzi.
“Deeper spots at past a hundred feet, it’s just harder for recreational divers to get to them, so we definitely need something that can reach the deeper depths.”
RISE said the robots will cost less than $1,000 and will be officially unveiled in a couple of weeks.