The exotic Indo-Pacific Lionfish poses a threat to Biscayne National Park
The spread of the Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) in Atlantic waters has received national and international attention. It is thought that several lionfish accidentally released into Biscayne Bay during Hurricane Andrew may be the original source for many of the lionfish occurring throughout US and Caribbean waters today, although this is still up for debate. Lionfish have been reported from and/or have become established in waters throughout the Caribbean, Bermuda, the Bahamas, and the U.S. Eastern seaboard. They can be found as far north as the waters off Massachusetts, although they can only survive year-round south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. It is estimated that lionfish in some areas of the Atlantic Ocean are now as abundant as or more abundant than many native grouper species.
Lionfish sightings by park staff and/or visitors in BISC remained rare until the spring of 2010, at which point lionfish became increasingly common. Reports of lionfish within and around Biscayne National Park began infrequently surfacing in 2008, prompting park staff to develop its Lionfish Management Plan, which outlines protocol for assessing and removing this exotic species. In June of 2009, a reported sighting was confirmed and park staff were able to locate and remove the individual. In the spring and summer of 2010, park staff initiated an early detection and rapid response approach to removing lionfish from the park, and they are hoping that park visitors will assist in these efforts by reporting their sightings of lionfish in the park.
Once introduced, lionfish can rapidly become an established species. The introduced lionfish poses potential problems for both the environment and humans:
- They are voracious predators that appear to compete for food resources of the already depleted, commercially and ecologically important, snapper-grouper fishery.
- They have few natural predators in the Atlantic Ocean and studies show that Atlantic predators avoid lionfish.
- Introduced lionfish are not timid and may readily approach divers and snorkelers.
- Their venomous spines can sting park users and can cause intense pain, swelling, headache, nausea, paralysis, and convulsions.
What can you do if you see a lionfish in Biscayne National Park?
- Document as much information about the sighting as possible. If you have a camera, take several photographs. Information recorded should include the details in the bulleted list below.
- Report your sighting information to Resource Managers at Biscayne National Park via email or by phone: 786-335-3649
- If possible, avoid handling or contacting venomous fins of the lionfish. If you have removed the lionfish from the water, do not release it back into the ocean.
Types of information to record and report if you observe a lionfish in Biscayne National Park:
- Date and time of sighting
- Location of sighting (if you have a GPS, record the coordinates)
- Depth of sighting
- Habitat (coral reef, seagrass, wreck etc)
- Number of lionfish
- Size(s) of lionfish
- Behavior of lionfish
Lionfish meat has a flavor comparable to hogfish or snapper. If properly prepared (i.e. venomous fins removed prior to filleting), lionfish are completely safe (and tasty) to eat!
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