The first documented lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico have been reported by researchers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. Two juvenile red lionfish (Pterois volitans) were captured last month.
With the exception of a specimen found in the Tampa Bay area that was likely an aquarium release, this is the first time this nonnative species has been documented in Gulf waters north of the Dry Tortugas and the Yucatan Peninsula.
The lionfish were found in two separate net tows made 99 and 160 miles off the southwest coast of Florida, north of the Dry Tortugas and west of Cape Romano in 183 and 240 feet of water.
The tows were part of a trawl survey funded by the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program, a cooperative state and federal program.
FWC scientists believe the juvenile lionfish are either evidence of a spawning population on the Gulf of Mexico’s West Florida Shelf or fish that were transported by ocean currents from other potential spawning areas, such as the waters off the Yucatan Peninsula. Either scenario could indicate an expansion of the 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. They are native to the reefs and rocky crevices of the Indo-Pacific, and are believed to appeared in Biscayne Bay after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
Various programs have been established in South Florida and the Bahamas to attempt to catch and eliminate as many of them as possible. They have no natural enemies and wholesale slaughter of the species in the South Atlantic is currently the only effective way to control their spread. Anglers in the Gulf or South Atlantic are urged to report sightings of lionfish to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by calling 877-STOPANS or filling out an online report on the USGS website at http://nas.er.usgs.gov/sightingreport.asp