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Entries in lionfish (19)


Monster Silver Carp Suggests Nightmarish Future Awaits Anglers, Native Species

What will happen to fisheries nationwide and even to outdoor recreation in general as Asian carp continue to spread, reproduce, and outcompete native species? We’ve just received a glimpse of a nightmarish possibility from Kentucky Lake, where angler Bill Schroeder foul-hooked and landed a 106-pound silver carp.

Although I’ve been unable to confirm it, I suspect that’s the largest silver carp taken in the United States, and possibly even the world. Experts say maximum weight for the exotic fish is about 60 pounds. And even now, the Tennessee state record for the silver carp, caught in 2013 on Kentucky Lake, was just 14 pounds, 13 ounces.

What’s going on? Silver carp like it here. So do bighead carp. Typically a larger fish, its maximum weigh is about 90 pounds. But in 2011, an angler targeting paddlefish hooked and landed a 106-pound specimen at Lake of the Ozarks.

And the exotic lionfish likes it here too. As it spreads all across the Gulf of Mexico and up the Atlantic coast, anglers are catching larger and larger specimens of this voracious predator. In its native range, it grows to 12 to 15 inches. Just a few days ago, one was caught off in the Florida Keys that measured nearly 19 inches.

Why are these exotics growing to horror-movie size proportions in our waters? Because they are exotic species, they have no “natural” predators, as they do in their native ranges. And they’re feasting on an abundance of food in our relatively fertile and healthy waters. By contrast, Asian carp struggle to survive in their native range because of pollution and overfishing.

Will the same happen with the Burmese python in the Everglades? Introduced to the wild by an irresponsible and little-regulated pet industry, it is now gobbling up native mammals and reptiles, and likely will expand its range into more developed areas. Will it grow to unprecedented size as well?

Now consider this: Asian carp are schooling fish. Frightened by disturbances on the surface, silver carp often go airborne, striking and injuring anglers and other boaters.

But the fish we see in videos of these airborne attacks usually weigh no more than 10 or 15 pounds. Imagine dozens of 100-pound silver carp taking flight all around you as you motor to your favorite fishing hole.

Of course, no one thought about such possibilities when the carp were imported by aquaculture facilities during the 1970s. And it wasn’t until the 1990s that we really started worrying about them crowding out native species in our rivers.

And then there’s the snakehead . . . 


Lionfish Threat Continues to Spread

As harmful invasive fish species, Asian carp seem to garner most of the headlines, mostly because of the threat that they pose to the Great Lakes.  But the lionfish, a marine invader from the Pacific Ocean, is decimating native species through much of the Caribbean, as well as spreading up the Atlantic coast and across the Gulf of Mexico. (See previous post.)

And now it’s been discovered off the coast of Brazil, which suggests the entire  coast of South America likely will be invaded.

“When the researchers analysed the fish’s DNA, they found that it matched the genetic signature of the Caribbean lionfish population, and not that of specimens from their native Indo-Pacific region. This suggests that the fish may have reached Brazil through natural larval dispersal from the Caribbean, the study’s authors say,” reports Nature.

“But Mark Hixon, a marine ecologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, says that ocean currents typically flow in the wrong direction for larval dispersal from the Caribbean to the southeastern Brazilian coast. He says that it is just as likely that the lionfish was brought to Brazil by humans. ‘Lionfish are easy to capture and make beautiful pets,’ says Hixon. ‘It’s easy to imagine boaters carrying lionfish as short-term pets in bait tanks or other containers on their vessels.’”

The Invasive Species Action Network adds this:

“Lionfish are vicious predators that eat any fish or invertebrate they can fit in their mouth. They reproduce easily and the rate at which they have expanded their range shows that they are thriving in this environment. With no predators in our waters they are rapidly impacting many habitats.

“Humans can have an impact. Fortunately, lionfish are very tasty and many restaurants have added them to the menu. In many areas concentrated spearfishing is keeping local populations in check but this is not a practical method of control across their range. In the USA, NOAA is the lead agency on this problem and they are the best source for lionfish information and research.

“NOAA has recently released the draft National Invasive Lionfish Prevention and Management Plan While the plan is still in draft form, it is scheduled to be approved at the next meeting of the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force meeting scheduled for the first full week in May.”


Florida Plans Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will celebrate its first Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day wtih a weekend of events across the state, starting Saturday, May 16, including a festival in Pensacola.

Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day (established to be the first Saturday after Mother’s Day each year) was created by FWC Commissioners to help draw attention to the lionfish issue. Lionfish are a nonnative, invasive species that have a potential negative impact on native species and habitat.

“We are thankful to all the groups that helped organize the Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day Festival and Tournament in Pensacola as well as all those who are hosting their own events across the state,” said FWC Commissioner Bo Rivard. “These efforts will help ensure we keep the lionfish issue on the forefront of everyone’s thoughts and minds.”

The FWC encourages all divers to remove as many lionfish on the weekend of May 16-17, no matter where they are in Florida.

The FWC also will unveil its Reef Ranger program this same weekend.

 Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day Festival and Tournament, Pensacola at Plaza de Luna, 900 S. Palafox St., Pensacola, on May 16-17.

This event will include celebrity chef demonstrations, lionfish tastings, fillet demos, a visit from world famous artist and marine conservationist Guy Harvey, family-friendly activities such as games and a fountain to play in, and more than 40 art, diving and conservation vendors; there will also be music, food and tons of helpful lionfish information.

The festival starts at 10 a.m. and runs until 5 p.m. each day. Updates will be provided from various other events across the state.

Want to participate in the tournament? Visit the Gulf Coast Lionfish Coalition (GCLC) webpage at to learn more or visit its Facebook page at GCLC is offering prize money for a number of categories, as well as chances to win great prizes with raffle tickets. Come by to check out the researchers counting and filleting fish. 

Meanwhile . . . 

The exotic lionfish is spreading up the Atlantic coast and along the Gulf coast, as well as throughout the Caribbean. A potential world record recently was caught off the coast of Mississippi.


Lionfish Are Malicious But Delicious

Can we eat enough lionfish to keep them from damaging native species and marine ecosystems? Probably not.

But it won’t hurt to try.

Last month, the first “Celebrity Chef Lionfish Challenge” was presented during the annual SeaWeb Seafood Summit, the world’s premier conference on sustainable seafood. Co-hosted by SeaWeb and National Marine Sanctuary Foundation (NMSF), the Challenge brought together seven top regional chefs to prepare their signature lionfish dishes.

Some of the recipes that they came up with include lionfish succotash, lionfish wreckdriver style, and lionfish with crawfish sauce piquant and creole cream cheese grits. Check out all of them here.

According to NMSF, “While visually stunning, the lionfish is an invasive species plaguing marine ecosystems in U.S. waters, particularly the southeast Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.

“As conventional population reduction methods have proven unsuccessful, organizations are innovating. The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation  and SeaWeb hope a secret weapon – America’s chefs – will spread the word that lionfish are malicious but delicious.”

Lionfish were first confirmed in U.S. waters in the 1980s and, with few natural predators and a fast breeding cycle, their presence is now permanent. They have had significant impact in the Flower Garden Banks, Florida Keys, and Gray’s Reef national marine sanctuaries.

Reduction of the lionfish population is a priority throughout the ocean community and, among their many functions and services, the sanctuaries serve as sentinel sites for control efforts. NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has just released its Lionfish Response Plan. At Flower Garden Banks, NMSF-funded expeditions have removed quantities of the predators and provided data used to improve population control techniques. 


Divers Capture Another Invader in Florida Waters

Surgeon fish photo by Deb Devers

Congratulations to two divers who had the good sense to report and then capture an exotic fish. Their actions might have prevented its establishment in Florida waters.

The two first noted the small, bright yellow fish while SCUBA diving beneath Palm Beach County’s Blue Heron Bridge, and realized that they never had seen one like it. They took photos and later reported what they had seen to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), a non-profit that keeps track of exotic marine fish species.

According to the Miami Herald, REEF identified the fish as a mimic lemon peel surgeonfish, also known as a chocolate surgeonfish. It’s native to the Indo-Pacific, and this was its first sighting in Florida waters. Upon learning that, the divers returned to where they had first seen the fish and captured it.

"We don’t know what the effects would have been if the fish had become established and began reproducing,” REEF said. “But if we wait to find out, then it’s too late.”

Taking out the surgeonfish could prove to be the fourth preemptive strike against a non-native marine fish species in Florida coastal waters, according to the organization.

In 1999 and 2002, REEF staff and volunteers captured four large Indo-Pacific batfish from Molasses Reef in Key Largo. In 2009, they removed a whitetail dascyllus damselfish from the east side of the Blue Heron Bridge. In 2012, Miami divers Greg Caterino and Wayne Grammes speared an exotic humpback grouper on a reef off Biscayne National Park and turned the carcass over to REEF. None of those three species are known to have reappeared in Florida waters since their removals.

“Some people might say, ‘Oh big deal, we took this little fish out of the water,’” REEF said. “But that’s the way the lionfish got started. If only we could have taken the first few lionfish out of the water in the first place. We’re relying on divers, snorkelers and fishermen to be our eyes and ears on the water. It’s a perfect example of how early detection and rapid removal can be successful in stemming an invasion.”

Anyone who spots a strange-looking fish that they suspect is invasive is advised to take a photo and report the sighting to REEF.