Invasive Lionfish

North Carolina Fisheries

In less than a decade, the Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans) has become widely established along the Southeast U.S. and Caribbean. Lionfish are presently invading the Gulf of Mexico and South America. Recent estimates of lionfish densities indicate that lionfish have surpassed some native species with the highest estimates reporting over 1,000 lionfish per acre in some locations.

Lionfish are capable of permanently impacting native reef fish communities. Lionfish occupy the same habitat as economically important species (e.g., snapper and grouper) and may hamper stock rebuilding efforts and coral reef conservation measures.

The Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research (CCFHR) first documented the establishment of Indo-Pacific lionfish in the Atlantic and is leading NOAA’s efforts to study the lionfish invasion. NOAA is accomplishing its research missions on lionfish through strong collaborations with the Reef Environmental and Education Foundation and the United States Geological Survey.

While some biologists advocate an “Eat Lionfish” campaign, the commercial harvest and distribution of this species is not yet established. So if you are lucky enough to participate in a taste test of lionfish fillets, enjoy them. Local supply is limited to recreational fishers.

Dr. James Morris of the CCFHR in Beaufort, NC is a lead researcher on the lionfish invasion. For a summary of NOAA’s research on lionfish biology, ecology, and impacts go to NOAA Fisheries.

Contributed by David Green

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