Lionfish (Pterois volitans, Pterois miles), venomous fishes native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, are the first invasive species of fish to establish themselves in the Western Atlantic (Schofield 2009).
A lionfish on display in a public aquarium. Photo: FGBNMS/Drinnen
Although they are quite beautiful to see, they are skilled predators capable of eating any fish or invertebrate their size or smaller, and they have venomous spines that can cause serious injury to people.
The first lionfish recorded in the Western Atlantic (east coast of the United States, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico) was a specimen captured near Dania, Florida in 1985. No other lionfish sightings were reported until 1992. The most likely source of these fish was the home aquarium trade.
One of the lionfish spotted at Sonnier Bank in March 2011
In 2010, sightings were also recorded in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico, along the coasts of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. By October 2010, lionfish were recorded at Sonnier Bank, about 60 miles east of East Flower Garden Bank (EFGB).
In July 2011, the first lionfish was observed in the sanctuary.
This photograph, taken by recreational divers, shows the first lionfish sighted at Stetson Bank
Based on research so far, these are the primary concerns raised by the lionfish invasion.
Lionfish are indiscrimate eaters. If it fits in their mouths, they will eat it! This includes many smaller species of fish and invertebrates, as well as the young of larger fish species, including snapper and grouper. Not only can this affect the balance of the local food chain, but it may also impact fisheries.
Lionfish reproduce year round. Most reef fishes only spawn once a year, so lionfish may quickly outnumber native fish populations.
Lionfish have venomous spines. An encounter with a lionfish may have painful consequences for a fisher or diver.
This lionfish was spotted in the sanctuary in August 2012. Photo: FGBNMS/Schmahl
You can help us monitor the situation by reporting any lionfish sightings. Please include the date, time, and location of the sighting as well as the size of the lionfish and any other information you can gather about the habitat or the behavior of the fish.
This lionfish from Sonnier Bank was about
9.5 inches long. Photo: FGBNMS/Embesi