GULF OF MEXICO, Fla - Researchers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute collected two juvenile red lionfish last week from the Gulf of Mexico.
With the exception of a probable aquarium release from the Tampa Bay area, the discovery of these lionfish marks the first time this nonnative species has been documented in Gulf waters north of the Tortugas and the Yucatan Peninsula
FWC researchers found the lionfish in the catch from two separate net tows taken at distances of 99 and 160 miles off the southwest coast of Florida, north of the Dry Tortugas and west of Cape Romano. The specimens were taken from depths of 183 and 240 feet as part of a trawl survey funded by the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program, a cooperative state and federal program.
FWC scientists believe the two juvenile lionfish, measuring approximately 2.5 inches in length, are either evidence of a spawning population on the Gulf of Mexico’s West Florida Shelf or they were transported to the area by ocean currents from other potential spawning areas, such as the waters off the Yucatan Peninsula. Either of these scenarios could indicate an expansion of the range of this species in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Lionfish are nonnative, venomous fish that have been sighted in Atlantic coastal waters of the United States since the mid-1990s and have been reported more recently in the waters of the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas. Lionfish, specifically the red lionfish and the devil firefish, appear to have established populations in the western North Atlantic Ocean. These species are native to the reefs and rocky crevices of the Indo-Pacific, but were likely introduced into South Florida waters in 1992.