Lionfish Invasion

blog post photo
Photo Credit: Georgia Aquarium

Beautiful and venomous, lionfish are top notch predators with healthy appetites. They’re successfully invading non-native waters, outcompeting domestic fish and using ocean currents to distribute their eggs – can anything be done to stop them?

Lionfish are a marine species with pointed, toxic spines and red, black and white zebra stripes. They are part of the Scorpionfish family, with an “average size is 12-15″ from head to tail and [weighing] close to 2.5 pounds,” shares Heather Dziedzic, Senior Aquarist at the Georgia Aquarium. “The Red Lionfish – Pterois volitans – is the animal currently identified as ‘invasive’ along the eastern United States, Caribbean, and Eastern Yucatan regions.”

Red Lionfish have a native range that “stretches from Eastern Africa to Micronesia,” says Dziedzic, and “any region outside of this range would be considered ‘non-native.’ Invasive species are generally identified as species that have a negative economic or biological impact in their new environment.”

blog post photo
Photo Credit: Jodi Kendall

But how did the lionfish species first arrive in the Western Hemisphere? “The exact cause is unknown,” says Klaus Fastenmeier, a Dive Medic at a hyperbaric clinic who frequently lectures on wildlife issues through the SSS Chamber Network. Klaus reveals that some theories include the aquarium trade, hurricanes and traveling ships.

Regardless of how lionfish found their way into the Atlantic Ocean, they’ve become an established species. Sightings have been reported from the Bahamas all the way up the U.S. coast to New Jersey – and it’s not unusual for an invasive species to grow larger in size or hunt and reproduce more successfully in a non-native environment.

blog post photo
Photo Credit: Georgia Aquarium

Red Lionfish have the potential to disrupt delicate coral reef communities by out-competing other predators and eating up to 6% in their weight each day in herbivorous fish. According to Fastenmeier, “a lionfish’s stomach expands 30 times in volume, and they can withstand starvation for 12 weeks,” making them a top-notch marine predator.

And, Dziedzic explains, “because of their size, Red Lionfish tend to prey on juvenile fish of other species… Many fish take advantage of the cover and protection of coral reefs to raise their young. Unfortunately, the native species are naive to the Lionfish and its predatory ways, making them easy targets. This has affected both ornamental and commercial fish species. Lionfish have shown little preference when selecting their prey, only adding to their negative impact on native fish populations.”

Not only are Red Lionfish successful marine hunters, their rapid growth and toxicity often protect them from would-be predators.

But what – if anything – should be done to stop lionfish from invading non-native waters and gobbling up domestic species? With lionfish already established and reproducing in the Western Hemisphere, “there is little to be done to stop [them],” says Dziedzic. “The most promising attempt in this case has been an increase in commercial fishing of the Lionfish… [they] are being educated on practices to safely catch and distribute species on the open market.”

Fastenmeier offers a slogan that he’s heard while traveling and lecturing around the Yucatan Peninsula: “beating them by eating them.” While Red Lionfish are toxic marine fish, their poison glands do not affect their meat. And with culinary options like broiled lionfish filets with butter, some fisherman along the Carolinas are profitably selling these filleted beauties at a reduced price.

Other attempts to combat what many call ‘the lionfish problem’ include killing them, removing and transporting them to their native range, and collecting them for private and public display.

But should the Red Lionfish species be captured, killed or removed from their non-native range? Species overrun non-native regions all the time, wreaking havoc on domestic creatures and sensitive eco-systems – consider current examples like the Burmese python in the Everglades and signal crayfish in Europe.

Is the triumph of the Red Lionfish – a non-indigenous species to the Western Hemisphere – a human and environmental danger, or simply nature running her course?

What’s your opinion? Voice it below! 

Learn more about Lionfish.


  1. zoltanwelvart
    May 30, 2014, 9:44 pm

    I found 2 meter deep deposit plankton mined by pyramid builders. On this blooms most nutritious algae possible, for fish.tunnels under small town onhigh altitude area totally gone crazy on amphetamin.and trafficking.and fake army roadblocks.