During the past few years, a number of exotic marine fishes have been seen and photographed by divers off the Florida coast. The red lionfish (Pterois volitans) is one of the most abundant, and now appears to be established and reproducing off the Florida coast. Since the lionfish is a top predator, it may negatively influence the structure of fish communities in Florida reefs.
The conclusion comes from a recent scientific article published by a team of marine biologists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Comission and NOAA led by Dr. Ramon Ruiz-Carus.
Here is an abstract of the original article published on this month’s online issue of the journal Biological Conservation:
Many exotic fresh-water and brackish-water fish species have become established in Florida waters, but the red lionfish is the first entirely marine species that appears to have become established here. We give a detailed account of the initial collections of adult specimens fromoff St. Augustine and Jacksonville, including data on morphometrics, meristics, and gonad histology. Our review of historical sightings on Florida reefs and of the specimens reported herein suggests that the most plausible vector for the introduction of this fish was aquarium releases. We discuss our reasons for concluding that this species has probably become established in Florida, summarize the potential danger that these venomous fishes pose to the public, and examine the effect of a parasite hosted by the male lionfish. We also consider the potential effect of the red lionfish on marine communities in Florida, but limited information on its biology precludes a detailed assessment.
R. Ruiz-Carus, R. E. Matheson Jr.a, D. E. Roberts Jr., P. E. Whitfiel. 2006. The western Pacific red lionfish, Pterois volitans (Scorpaenidae), in Florida: Evidence for reproduction and parasitism in the first exotic marine fish established in state waters. Biological Conservation 128: 384-390.