[Coral-List] Lionfish invasion info

Lad Akins Lad at reef.org
Wed Feb 20 11:45:23 EST 2008

Dear Listers,

I was hoping the lionfish discussion would not take on a life of its own,
yet, but it seems that it has struck a chord.

Boy is there a lot of mis-information and misconception out there!  Looks
like it is time to weigh in.

REEF has been working over the past 2 years with James Morris and others at
the NOAA lab in Beaufort NC, The National Aquarium in Washington DC, the
USGS, the Bahamas Department of Fisheries, the College of the Bahamas, local
(Bahamas) dive operators Bruce Purdy and Stuart Cove as well as other
researchers on this lionfish issue.  We maintain an exotic species web site
and electronic reporting page and receive regular sightings reports from
around the Atlantic region.  These sightings and other sighting sources are
being compiled by the USGS

I'd like to start by saying that we are about to publish results from nearly
1,000 specimens collected under permit in the Bahamas since Jan 2007, and
another 1,000 from offshore NC, so I am not going to give away too much info
here.  However...

The genetics do not show one founding female and the historical records
indicate this has been a problem long in the making (Freshwater, UNCW).
Courtenay in 1995 describes lionfish in Biscayne Bay after Hurricane Andrew
and there are reports going back into the 1980s of fish in FL waters.  North
Carolina's earliest reports were in 2000 (Whitfield, et al, 2002, MEPS). Add
to that the fact that over 16 other non-native marine fish have been
documented in a 3 county area of SE FL (Semmens, et al, 2004, MEPS) and that
well over 7,000 lionfish are imported into FL each year for the aquarium
trade (Ruiz-Carus, et al, 2006, Biol. Cons.) and it appears that this not a
one-time lucky occurrence.  The problem most likely started in FL.

Lionfish have become the first successful marine fish invasion of Atlantic
waters.  They are now documented from Massachusetts in the north
(juveniles), to Bermuda in the East, as far south as Turks and Caicos and
west to Cayman.  The Florida population begins around Palm Beach and
increases steadily as one moves north.  The Carolinas have large numbers.
The Keys have not shown fish yet.

The Bahamas are becoming infested and the fish appear to be moving rapidly
south and west.  REEF and our partners have collected fish from Grand
Bahama, Andros, the Berries, Exumas, Eleuthera, Bimini, New Providence,
Little San Salvador, Long Island and Conception.  We have confirmed reports
from many other islands in the Bahamas.

The first confirmed reports in the Bahamas were in 2004 (Purdy).

Lionfish appear to be spawning year-round in some locations (Morris, NOAA).

There appear to be few parasites affecting lionfish compared to other native
species (Barse, Salisbury University and Morris, NOAA).

Lionfish appear to eat opportunistically and will take almost anything, even
prey over half their body size. (NOAA/Munoz/ Morris/REEF). Commercially
valuable species are included in our stomach content findings.

We have documented little in the way of natural predation (even sharks
passing up free lionfish lunches) (Morris, REEF).

Bermuda is taking the lead on initiating eradication efforts (Flook, BAMZ),
while Bahamian fishermen have been directed by the Minister of Fisheries and
Agriculture, Larry Cartwright, to kill any lionfish they encounter.

There is much more work in progress including tagging studies, trapping
studies, bioenergetics, trophic impacts, local eradication and more.

As part of the ICRS field trips, REEF is co-hosting a lionfish workshop in
the Bahamas June 28-July 4

Additionally, we are conducting collecting and research efforts in the
Exumas March 8-15 and in Nassau from May 11-15.  There are opportunities to
join in if anyone is interested.

We are also in the planning stages for a multi-agency workshop to be focused
on S FL (July) to develop a regional exotic species rapid response plan.
This effort is in close partnership with NOAA and the Gulf and South
Atlantic Regional Panel on Aquatic Invasive Species.

While the lionfish issue is near and dear to our hearts and a great "poster
child" for marine invasive issues, the problem is not restricted to
lionfish.  In partnerships with the FKNMS and the New England and FL
Aquariums, REEF removed a total of 4 indo-pacific batfish (Platax
orbicularis) from Molasses Reef in 1999 and 2002.  We are also working
heavily in the Pacific Northwest on invasive tunicate problems.

Feel free to touch base with me on the issue, visit the REEF website
(http://www.reef.org/programs/exotic), the USGS website
(http://nas.er.usgs.gov/) or the NOAA information page
(http://www.ccfhr.noaa.gov/stressors/invasivespecies/Lionfish/) for more on

Best fishes,


Lad Akins
Special Projects
98300 Overseas Hwy
Key Largo  FL  33037
(305) 942-7333 cell

More information about the Coral-List mailing list