FWC Discovers Nonnative Lionfish In Gulf of Mexico

By: Press Release Email
By: Press Release Email

FWC Press Release:

Researchers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute collected two juvenile red lionfish (Pterois volitans) last week from the Gulf of Mexico.

With the exception of a probable aquarium release from the Tampa Bay area, the discovery of these lionfish marks the first time this nonnative species has been documented in Gulf waters north of the Tortugas and the Yucatan Peninsula.

FWC researchers found the lionfish in the catch from two separate net tows taken at distances of 99 and 160 miles off the southwest coast of Florida, north of the Dry Tortugas and west of Cape Romano. The specimens were taken from depths of 183 and 240 feet as part of a trawl survey funded by the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program, a cooperative state and federal program.

FWC scientists believe the two juvenile lionfish, measuring approximately 2.5 inches in length, are either evidence of a spawning population on the Gulf of Mexico’s West Florida Shelf or they were transported to the area by ocean currents from other potential spawning areas, such as the waters off the Yucatan Peninsula. Either of these scenarios could indicate an expansion of the range of this 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 and have been reported more recently in the waters of the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas. Lionfish, specifically the red lionfish and the devil firefish, appear to have established populations in the western North Atlantic Ocean. These species are native to the reefs and rocky crevices of the Indo-Pacific, but were likely introduced into South Florida waters in 1992.

To report sightings of lionfish, call the nationwide reporting number (877-STOPANS) sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) or fill out an online report on the USGS website at http://nas.er.usgs.gov/sightingreport.asp.

For more information about lionfish, visit the USGS website at http://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=963. Go to

MyFWC.com/Nonnative to learn more about nonnative species in Florida.

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  • by Tom J Location: Miami on Jul 27, 2010 at 09:35 AM
    There have been a number of sightings of lion fish off the Gulf coast of Florida since 2002, and a couple off Georgia so the new sightings are not the "first". There are a lot of "off radar" sightings that do not make main report venues (USGS NAS etc. From last years < 10 in SE FLO area, I have received calls for over 60 since June 19 in same area. We are seeing them now in a seemingly logorhythmic upswing in shallow populations(even though I expect they have been deep here for a while). They have been in less than 2' in the keys (by kids) to > 400'depths. Lion fish are still imported in huge numbers and sold as pets, and probably are still released (continued vector). Lion fish are allowed to be captured in our parks and sold back into the pet trade. My personal 2 cents...it would seem prudent that any species for which we are spending tax dollars to control, should not be allowed for sale given the mounting evidence of a likely history of multiple releases, and release sites.
  • by dog Location: gone on Jul 26, 2010 at 02:25 PM
    They are very good to eat, FWC needs to open a commercial fishery for this fish, Hi end resturants would be lining up for the exotic fish.
  • by Landi Location: Gadsden Co on Jul 26, 2010 at 02:00 PM
    This is a beautiful fish, my mom has one in her tank.
  • by country Location: justolyathat on Jul 26, 2010 at 12:46 PM
    Blecch. Inevitable, but blecch. I don't think that aquariums should be outlawed, but people should not be allowed to put water in them. The money that irresponsible people w/ aquariums have dinged the taxpayer for probably is well into the billions. Think hydrilla...
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