Why is NOAA conducting research on lionfish?


Lionfish is an invasive marine species not native to U.S. waters. There is growing concern that lionfish — having few natural enemies — may threaten native fish populations and that their venomous spines also may pose a threat to scuba divers and fisherman.

Every year, both the number and geographic range of lionfish has increased in the Atlantic. Lionfish have now been observed at depths of 5 to 300 feet in coral, rocky and artificial reefs from the northern Caribbean to North Carolina, including the Bahamas and Bermuda. Young lionfish also are found along the northeast U.S. coast, but do not survive cold winter water temperatures.

NOAA scientists are conducting research on the invasive lionfish to better understand their biology, ecology, and distribution. This information is now being used to determine and reduce potential threats to the ecosystem and fisheries caused by the lionfish invasion.

Native to both the Indian and western South Pacific oceans, lionfish are beautiful, yet venomous, coral reef fish that have invaded western Atlantic waters. Popular in saltwater aquariums because of their brilliant maroon and white stripes and fan-like fins, it is likely that they were carelessly released into the Atlantic from private aquariums in the mid- to early 1990s.

This month’s experts:  Paula Whitfield, research ecologist and James Morris, ecologist with NOAA's Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research.

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