Contact theSOPAbout theSOPSupport theSOPWritersEditorsManaging Editors
theSOP logo
Published:November 6th, 2006 11:52 EST

NOAA Says Focus Needed on Non-Native Lionfish

By SOP newswire

NOAA researchers reported today that non-native lionfish populations will continue to grow and cannot be eliminated practically using conventional methods. Lionfish have taken hold along the southeast United States coast, placing divers and fishermen at significant risks from their painful, venomous sting, as well as leaving native fish populations potentially susceptible to new and unstudied hazards from their interactions with this species.

The scientists explained that the cost and effort to dispatch trained divers—the only effective elimination method currently known—would be impractical, partly due to the expansive deepwater reef habitats of the Southeast coast of the United States and Bahamas, an area encompassing more than 62,000 square miles.

How lionfish will affect native fish populations has yet to be determined or assessed, including the potential impacts to the commercial fishing industry. However, non-indigenous species can have serious negative economic effects and cause major disruption of native ecosystems.

The information was provided by scientists from the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science to coastal resource managers as part of information on lionfish biology and control measures and also was presented at a meeting of the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council in July 2006.

Lionfish, a native of the Indian and Pacific oceans, are now considered established in the Atlantic Ocean. First discovered off the coast of North Carolina in 2000 by the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, they are believed to have been present off the east coast of Florida since the mid 1990s. Lionfish, popular in the aquarium trade, were likely introduced through releases by amateur aquarists no longer wishing to keep the fish.

NOAA researchers have determined that lionfish reach sexual maturity within two years and spawn multiple times during the spawning season. Each spawn can produce up to 30,000 eggs. Lionfish are believed to spend the winter from North Carolina to the Bahamas, with juveniles found as far north as Rhode Island during summer months where the potential for successful survival during the winter months is not possible due to cold water temperatures.

Prevention of future invasive species will require continued outreach efforts to discourage the release of exotic marine species into the wild. Early detection methods through regular monitoring programs can focus on detecting non-native species before they become established and aid in determining best practices for dealing with possible impacts of lionfish on fisheries.

Lionfish impacts to reef fish communities can potentially be reduced by local control in smaller regions. For example, lionfish have not been found in the NOAA Gray's Reef or Florida Keys national marine sanctuaries. "We are currently considering early detection and rapid response efforts to keep lionfish out of the sanctuaries," said ecologist James Morris, NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. "It is unclear at this time if these attempts will be successful."

Coastal managers are included in a cooperative of federal, state and local agencies and the private sector administered by the Gulf and South Atlantic Regional Panel of the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force and the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council. The group seeks to prevent the spread of exotic or nonnative species through intentional or inadvertent transport.

In 2007 NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. Starting with the establishment of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA. The agency is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.