Invasive Lionfish in Local Waters

Lionfish have become a serious problem in the western Atlantic over the past 35 years, after being introduced most likely by saltwater aquarium owners releasing their fish. A native of the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, lionfish have no natural predators in the waters of Florida.

Lionfish have been slowly expanding their territory and in recent years, have been found in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, including areas near Marco Island. Once these fish move in, there is little that can be done to eliminate them. They simply out breed local fish and eat so many juvenile native fish that in most areas that lionfish are well established, native fish populations have decreased greatly. Lionfish become capable of reproduction in less than a year – it takes our native fish three to four years on average. A single female is capable of spawn-ing every 4 days, year around, releasing between 10,000-30,000 eggs every time.

In the course of a year, a single female will release over two million eggs in warm waters like southern Florida. They reproduce by the females releasing an egg mass that floats up to the ocean surface where a male fertilizes the mass. After just two days, the tiny juvenile lionfish are born and swim at the surface until they reach one inch in size.

At this point the baby lionfish swim to the bottom to find hard bottom, algae, shipwrecks and artificial reefs to hide on, grow up and call home. Their entire life cycle is found offshore in waters between 15ft and 1,000ft. Lionfish have 18 venomous spines in their fins that contain a power toxin that is very painful if you are poked by them. These spines are what protect lionfish from other predators. If you are stung by a lionfish, apply hot or freezing water to the area. The toxin is protein based and hot or cold temperatures change the shape of the protein, which causes it to no long work. After a few hours, your toxin will be gone and you will no longer feel pain.