Photo: Jens Petersen
Florida TaxWatch Economic Commentary
The Lionfish: Threatening native fish and Florida's fishing industries
Florida is blessed with a world-renowned natural environment, which helps drive a colossal tourism industry, and makes the state a great place to work and play. With this dependence on nature, invasive species can have a significant (and often expensive) impact on Florida’s economy and desirability. Invasive species are plants or animals that are not native to a given area, typically introduced by people; and because they are not native to the area, natural predators are typically absent, allowing invasive species to thrive, consuming native species and reproducing quickly.
The lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific region, is an invasive species in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean that devours native fish and competes for food with native predators, and represents a threat to several important industries in Florida, including sport and commercial fishing, and to the health of coral reefs and the biodiversity in our waters. In addition to killing native species, the lionfish also reproduces at a much faster rate than other fish in the region, and is able to adapt to almost any environment, from a 1-foot deep mangrove stand to a more than 1,000-feet deep reef.1 Two particular species affect Florida and nearby waters: the red lionfish (photo above, Pterois volitans) and common lionfish (Pterois miles).
First caught in 1985 in Dania, Florida, the precise reason for its arrival to the Atlantic coast is unknown; however, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other conservation groups2 have stated that the most likely cause is individuals dumping these fish and/or their eggs into the wild from their aquariums.3 The species exponentially grew along the Florida Keys and the Bahamas from 2004 to 2010.4
Lionfish can truly be devastating to the waters they invade. A 2012 Oregon State University study shows that the lionfish caused a 65 percent average decrease in native prey fish population along nine reefs in the Bahamas in only two years.5The fish are now more common in these waters than in their home waters in the Indo-Pacific region. They have been observed in several states of the Atlantic coast, the Gulf coast, and the Caribbean Sea, and they have no known predators.
Their sting can also cause severe pain, allergic reactions, nausea, and convulsions in humans, and in very rare cases, death. Due to their disruptive effects, several state organizations and nationwide organizations including the NOAA, Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have been working to help control the lionfish population. In Florida, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has been actively working on controlling these fish.
1 Portland Press Herald. "Invasive lionfish imperiling ecosystem."
2 The Nature Conservancy. "Stopping the Lionfish."
3 Science Insider. "Mystery of the Lionfish: Don’t Blame Hurricane Andrew."
4 See footnote 1.
5 Portland Press Herald. "Invasive lionfish imperiling ecosystem."