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We Can Help, Report Atlantic lionfish sightings


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#1 seagrant

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Posted 05 December 2005 - 01:15 AM

I have been meaning to post this for divers who don't know and due to the recent post of the lionfish pic in Nassau, Bahamas, on another website:
http://www.digitaldi...;threadid=16263
well it needs to be said.

The common lionfish from the pacific (Pterois volitans), is very widespread now off the Atlantic Coast and now in the Bahamas also. Documented cases of aquarium releases and possible other "causes", especially right before hurricane Andrew hit Southern Florida in the early 90s, are the probable sources. The website below has much more data.

Additional interesting data from one of the technical divers on a recent survey is the largest concentration of the lionfish are 60 miles offshore North Carolina, mostly in depths from 120' to 165'. Some surveys came up with 60 individuals in one small area. They are over-wintering there in the warm Gulf Stream and breeding. Also interesting is they are growing nearly twice the size of their Pacific counterparts. I was very surprised to see a picture of one collected that was as large as a big lunch tray on their boat. Population is now being estimated at around 1 million, so they are here to stay. Studies as to what they are eating, possible effects to our fish populations, and control measures are being looked at. As said, the NOAA website below has the best data on that.

How we can help? It is really important that any exotic fish be reported (http://www.reef.org/exotic/index.html is easiest for that), but reporting the lionfish is imperative and is best done at the website below. Accurate data is needed and pictures also. Especially important are sightings of any juveniles at any depth and adult lionfish that are shallower than 85 feet, or in areas not otherwise known.

So please help by reporting Atlantic lionfish sightings here: http://shrimp.ccfhrb...a.gov/lionfish/

Thanks, Carol

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#2 james

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Posted 05 December 2005 - 07:46 AM

Hi Carol,

Thanks for posting, and welcome to Wetpixel.

Cheers
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#3 Rocha

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Posted 05 December 2005 - 09:09 AM

This is turning into a big problem, I had no idea the estimated population size was 1 million already! I remember I saw many pictures of exotic species in Florida, I think it was in the gallery of wetpixel member Peter Schulz.

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#4 frogfish

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Posted 05 December 2005 - 08:10 PM

I'm reeling at the idea of a P. volitans the size of a lunch tray off the Carolinas.

I'd be interested if anyone has figured out what the lionfish are eating in their new habitat ,and the level of risk that they may outcompete indigenous predators in this new environment. As many here already know, there have been introductions of a number of Red Sea species into the eastern Mediterranean since the opening of the Suez canal.

The pattern of newly evolved species originating in the Southeast Asia-Indo-Pacific "Coral Triangle" biodiversity hotspot radiating out and displacing relic populations seems well established in the Pacific-Indian Ocean, and presumably may have also extended into what is now the Bahamas and parts of the Atlantic eons before the continents of North and South America were joined and the Caribbean became an independent secondary originating source of new species.

(See John C. Briggs, "Coral Reefs: Conserving the evolutionary sources" in Biological Conservation 126 (2005) and "The marine East Indies: diveristy and speciation" in Journal of Biogeography 32 (2005).

Now humans, with their aquaria and ballast tanks, are mixing it up and creating avenues for exotics to move to new environments that have been cut off for millions of years. It could eventually become the marine equivalent of the incredible transfer of terrestrial biota over the past 500 years since the beginning of the Columbian exchange.
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#5 seagrant

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Posted 05 December 2005 - 10:38 PM

Thanks for answering everybody!

Yes James, I grew up in California and took the screen name seagrant (cause of my name), but I didn't bankroll your research!! :P And thanks for the welcome! BTW, FL Gardens is one of my fav places to dive in the whole world!! Not just cause we got to swim with a whale shark there for 2 hours once, but all the big and unusual little guys, just fascinating diversity and mantas everytime I've been out there. I heard it was impacted pretty bad by Wilma and my heart was made sick at that news. It is a resilient area though.

Rocha, I also was surprised to hear the population est at 1 million. This is reliable, my Dive Safety Officer from the Florida Aquarium, Tampa, was on that recent survey trip - I was green with envy, would have loved to have gone, but since I'm not tech trained I wasn't even a candidate. You know they did transcets down on hard bottom with one diver going one way, one going opposite and came up with as many as 60 lionfish on one transcet! Sometimes it was just 2 or 3, but you know to get 60 in one transect the population has to be dense. I'm told they seem to hunt in "packs". Of course they also surveyed wrecks that had populations. I believe he said that last year when he was on one of the surveys they removed lionfish from 3 deep wrecks and this year 2 of the wrecks were fully repopulated with large individuals, but one was still lionfish free.

Yes, unfortunately it wasn't just one that was as big as a lunch tray, I'm told there were a lot that size. I saw pics of specimens and there were live captures also, but the big ones are harder to return to the surface safely from those depths. They are eating our little wrasses, our anthias, etc., food that grouper, etc. normally eat. So it is a great concern. I think the website has a lot more data and a daily, interesting blow by blow account. No one is jumping to conclusions now but it doesn't sound good. I'm not a gloom and doom person and I've always been so proud that our US waters are not awfully fished-out like many areas of the planet, but this lionfish invasion can't be good. Too bad sand tigers don't have a taste for them??? Maybe it will develop?? :D

Good news is right now in Florida we don't have that many, they seemed to have mostly followed the gulf stream north, and then whatever other loop it is taking to send them to Bahamas. But again most reside very deep in the gulf stream so they could go by undetected, who knows. I don't want to jump to conclusions.

I'm certainly keeping an eye out for them in Florida here, also they haven't entered the Gulf of Mexico as far as I know. So reported sightings will be very, very important in the future to determine where they are spreading.

Yes, unfortunately lots of exotics, especially on the East Coast of Florida and some in the Keys. I've seen sailfin tang there pretty regularly, south of West Palm, and there are exotic angelfishes, etc. REEF along with the Florida Aquarium removed some orbicular batfish from Molasses Reef in Key Largo (they are in the Florida Aquairum and Boston Aquariums now), but I think they may have missed one? That was a worry cause they might mate with our atlantic spadefish. Yes, word, posters and education is out saying "don't" release in the ocean. At this point sighting data and pics are most important. What I do hate is when vigilantes go out and spear the poor things on their own, collection is a much better option unless something officially comes down as far as the lionfish are concerned, there are so many now, vigilante measures are fruitless in my opinion, complete data is much more valuable. Also sometimes I hate then to label any fish "exotic" cause I'm afraid some uneducated person will go out and kill the thing (that has been going on). We do have a lot of neat stuff in the Atlantic and Gulf here that people are not aware of and are actually native!!

Anyway, I've had my say, report, report, report, Thanks, C <_<

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#6 Scubaskeeter

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 06:41 PM

Yes, I saw one East of Nassau harbor, at the Blue Hole, the guides said it probably escaped the hotel aquarium as larvae, even though there is a "filter". I can't find on any site where there is an estimate of 1 million lionfish in the Atlantic, that just seems high since the first sighting was in 1998 or so.

We should kill exotics on sight. Too many times we have let invasives passively come in as curiosities, only to cause enormous problems later. Grass carp, european buckthorn, lampreys, starlings and zebra mussels to name a few. Can you imagine being the first Atlantic grouper to discover lionfish?

I have heard from people at government and NGO's that the official policy is to report, but unofficially they wanted the lionfish dead. They don't offically advocate killing because the critters are venomous and might incur a liability for the agency posting kill recommendation.

#7 seagrant

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 07:54 PM

OK, scubaskeeter, opposite opinions can exist as far as the "vigilante" aspect of killing the creatures and I respect each to have his own opinion on that.

This article below documents a sighting of the lionfish by Jim Abernethy in 1994 (four years before 1998). In fact it is a very interesting article just loaded with data and "facts", even an instance of disscussion of a lionfish "bounty" price, you would like that. ;)

http://shrimp.ccfhrb...lionfish_ia.pdf

I am most certainly not the expert on this, but felt the "report, report" aspect needed to be posted. If the Bahamas says the sighting is from their own aquarium I'm sure that will be of interest to Paula Whitfield, NOAA, NC (email add on website below). The article above says the southern boundry of our lionfish "releases" and subsequent distribution was never established, so I can't say where that Bahamas lionfish came from. I figured it was from our population since the lionfish off the Atlantic coast range (or "ranged") from Miami, Florida (or more south?) to New Jersey, including Bermuda. The Bahamas isn't very far out of that loop. But it is up to the researchers to look at that.

That is a huge area and if you read the data on these and other websites about the density found at various sites it is not at all hard to imagine the population estimated at 1 million. But whatever the population really is, point is we don't want the lionfish eating the food our native grouper and snapper eat and also eating the grouper, etc, juvs. We have worked hard to keep our Atlantic waters from being so awfully fished-out like so much of the world and this is a possible threat.

So the need for good data and pictures as to where they are is vital and a real way to help. If anyone has any pictures of the Pacific common lionfish in the Atlantic please send them here with data:

http://shrimp.ccfhrb...fish/index.html

Thanks everyone for taking an interest!! Best, C

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#8 diveh2o

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 08:54 PM

they are growing nearly twice the size of their Pacific counterparts.


I am assuming that this is due to the fact that there hasn't been any sort of co-evolution going on with the Lionfish and other Atlantic species over the last couple thousand years....

They are probably pretty immune to diseases that have evolved in conjunction with native species.

Whatever it is they are eating has been caught by surprise... they don't have any protection/resistance to this attack.

There are no predators that have evolved traits which allow them to feed on Lionfish (i.e. immunity to their venom).

Agreed?
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#9 diveh2o

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 08:56 PM

Now humans, with their aquaria and ballast tanks


and Aquaculture (in many cases)
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#10 seagrant

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Posted 15 December 2005 - 12:39 AM

DiveH20,

I'll ask more about the "reasons" being formulated about the very large size the lionfish are growing to in the Atlantic. You could also email Paula Whitfield, NOAA, NC, she has her email listed at the end of the site I posted earlier, I don't think she would mind educated questions (and data!!)

You have to see though the lionfish have an almost totally different environment here. They are living very deep mostly, that is different from their Pacific counterparts. They are eating different species of fish, that is different from their Pacific counterparts. Water Temps are much different, etc.

Predators? It was hoped sand tigers would be a predator, but I don't know if that has been established or not. Has anything even tried to eat them here? I'll look for data on that and ask around.

Thanks again, good points made, C

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#11 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 15 December 2005 - 12:44 AM

In cold water a species will often grow slower but larger. Certainly in the Red Sea lionfish tend to be much bigger than the average size you see them in SE Asia. Carolina is probably similar.

Just for interest, here are mating lionfish (longfin rather than volitans):

Posted Image

The male was the larger fish (which surprised me as I would have expected the female to be larger) and her is wrapping round and underneath the female in the spawning rise.

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#12 MikeVeitch

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Posted 15 December 2005 - 01:02 AM

Ummm, how'd you tell the diff in sex? Its tough enough doing it with a house cat, hate to flip one over and check them gonads... ;)

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#13 ce4jesus

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Posted 08 January 2006 - 09:18 AM

"There are no predators that have evolved traits which allow them to feed on Lionfish"

The only thing I've seen take one out is a large Moray Eel. Because he swallowed him head first, the spine was no issue. Who knows if he ever ate another one..haha.

Seriously, I heard that fishermen were given the no-return-to-water order for Batfish. Has anyone heard the same for the Lionfish?
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#14 Giles

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Posted 08 January 2006 - 09:23 AM

why wouldn't you return Batfish to the water ?
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#15 Rocha

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Posted 08 January 2006 - 09:58 AM

Gilles, he is talking about an invasive species, Platax teira, relatively common in the Florida Keys, but not well established yet. The recommendation for this and anyother exotic species (including the lionfish) is to kill them. For more info about the invasive batfish look here:

http://www.reef.org/...orum/exotic.htm

And here is a nice summary about exotic marine fish:

http://www.reef.org/exotic/index.html

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#16 seagrant

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Posted 08 January 2006 - 11:51 AM

Rocha,

As far as I know all the orbicular batfish were removed from Molasses Reef by REEF in conjunction with the Florida and New England Aquariums in separate removal operations. They may have missed one, but they are not widespread as far as I have heard recently. You can ask Lad Akins from REEF to confirm that. They were all captured live and are still living in the aquariums as far as I know. You can come see two of them at the Florida Aquarium in our big coral reef tank. They are an important educational part of our dive programs, mentioning that they are the only fish not native to Florida in the tank, etc.

Be careful about posting the "kill" recommendation, you may be promoting something technically illegal in Florida waters with regards to ornamental reeffish (but not lionfish, as they are scorpionfish).

It is a big problem I assure you and I am not against organized removal of harmful species, but I am against "vigilante" practices as, among other things they might not be hatted enough to tell the sometimes slight differences between our reeffish and species from another ocean. Or they might not have a clue that a LOT of species are circumtropical and circumglobal, even looking different in other regions (e.g., striated frogfish, A. striatus).

We do a lot of funded surveys around Florida every year and I personally dive over 100 dives per year (50% of all my open water dives per year) in our Florida waters. We are pretty familiar with what is widespread and what is not.

Again I'm not against organized removal for scientific/environmental purposes, but I feel it must be handled in an organized fashion that will actually do some good, with statistics, etc. Do we tell recreational divers to kill crown of thorns on the Great Barrier Reef? No, of course we don't, yes that is a different sit of course as they are native, but it is the same point.

And yes, this is solely my opinion although I have heard it expressed by others also. I have also heard your opinion expressed and I respect that. Just be careful about the legal issues and what exactly you are encouraging in our Florida waters.

Respectfully, Carol

PS-Best thing is reliable data and photos submitted to these sites:

Lionfish:
http://shrimp.ccfhrb...a.gov/lionfish/

And other non-natives:
http://www.reef.org/exotic/exotic.htm

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#17 Rocha

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Posted 08 January 2006 - 12:59 PM

Hi Carol, I agree with all of the above, and I admit that my previous "killing" message was not really well thought out. As a biologist, I know how prejudicial invasive species can be to the environment, and that's the reason for my suggestion.

...you may be promoting something technically illegal in Florida waters with regards to ornamental reeffish (but not lionfish, as they are scorpionfish).

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


I am not quite sure of what you mean above. Lionfish are scorpionfish and both are reeffish. Now, many scorpionfish are not ornamental reeffish, but lionfish are, and their prices in the ornamental reef fish trade are quite high.

Luiz

P.S.: I was not trying to promote a removal operation, but merely to alert people that also do some fishing to not release invasive species back to the environment (when they know the species is exotic).

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#18 Rocha

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Posted 08 September 2006 - 09:48 AM

New developments... Now hundreds of lionfish were found in Long Island, link to the article below:

http://www.nytimes.c...amp;oref=slogin

They are spreading fast.

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#19 seannash

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Posted 11 November 2006 - 04:55 PM

a student of mine photographed a lionfish in the exuma cays (wax cay cut) this past july
on a sail trip. she had been to andros and the berry is. previously.

i couldn't make the trip due to a neck surgery.

she came back talking about this fish she photographed and was calling it a scorpionfish.
i about dies when i first saw the images. they are so very close and clear.
(i will send them as soon as i get back to school on monday)

then of course, she was quite excited when i informed her of the toxicity of these
little guys. her photographs we quite close with a sony digital camera in what it likely
less than fifteen feet of water on a patch reef.

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proof that even a total amateur can help to make a difference.
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#20 AllisonFinch

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Posted 25 November 2006 - 08:56 PM

I have heard a hopeful story. A fisherman reported that when he was cleaning a grouper he had caught, he found a lionfish inside. I hope that is true. Since they are very slow and easy to catch, they may make a good food source if they find a way to safely eat them.