July 23, 2010
Researchers with the Florida
Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissionís (FWC) Fish and
Wildlife Research Institute collected two juvenile red lionfish (Pterois
volitans) last week from the Gulf of Mexico. With the exception of
a probable aquarium release from the Tampa Bay area, the discovery
of these lionfish marks the first time this nonnative species has
been documented in Gulf waters north of the Tortugas and the
FWC researchers found the lionfish in the catch from two separate
net tows taken at distances of 99 and 160 miles off the southwest
coast of Florida, north of the Dry Tortugas and west of Cape
Romano. The specimens were taken from depths of 183 and 240 feet
as part of a trawl survey funded by the Southeast Area Monitoring
and Assessment Program, a cooperative state and federal program.
FWC scientists believe the two juvenile lionfish, measuring
approximately 2.5 inches in length, are either evidence of a
spawning population on the Gulf of Mexicoís West Florida Shelf or
they were transported to the area by ocean currents from other
potential spawning areas, such as the waters off the Yucatan
Peninsula. Either of these scenarios could indicate an expansion
of the range of this species in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Lionfish are nonnative, venomous fish that have been sighted in
Atlantic coastal waters of the United States since the mid-1990s
and have been reported more recently in the waters of the Florida
Keys and Dry Tortugas. Lionfish, specifically the red lionfish and
the devil firefish, appear to have established populations in the
western North Atlantic Ocean. These species are native to the
reefs and rocky crevices of the Indo-Pacific, but were likely
introduced into South Florida waters in 1992.
To report sightings of lionfish, call the nationwide reporting
number (877-STOPANS) sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) or fill out an
online report on the USGS website at http://nas.er.usgs.gov/sightingreport.asp.