Lionfish Roam Atlantic Seaboard

By BOB STERNER
For Wildlife Conservation Magazine

The Pacific Lionfish, gracefully beautiful but painfully
venomous, has become the first Indo-Pacific fish to
establish a home on the east coast of the United States,
according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration.
Pterois volitans has been seen from
Florida north to New York, and east to Bermuda, but
winter temperatures north of Cape Hatteras are likely to
limit the invasion of the warm-water species.

“We’re seeing them thirty to sixty miles offshore, so they’
ve got to be everywhere,” says Paula Whitfield, a biologist
at NOAA’s Beaufort, North Carolina, station.

NOAA is concerned about how lionfish will affect native
marine life. The lionfish consume small fish, shrimp and
crabs – the same diet as that of native fish. Large
predators such as grouper are already taxed by
overfishing, and would be unaware of the toxic surprise
that lionfish pack on their spines.

Aquarium releases are believed to have led to the invasion,
which was first documented with two sightings in 2000.
It could have started as early as 1992, when Hurricane
Andrew flooded a Florida aquarium.

“The distribution perfectly fits the Gulf Stream’s dispersal
mechanism,” Whitfield says. “They probably originated in
Florida waters.”
                                                                            PHOTO: BOB STERNER

Pterois volitans, shown here in its
native water off Thailand, has
established a new home off of the east
coast of the United States. Scientists
are wary of how the invader will affect
native species.

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