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Way Downstream … (Sept. 12, 2019)

Lionfish “Taking Over the Atlantic”

       We encountered a lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago, and they still swim around in bad dreams.

            They look like no other sea creature, colored like a VW love bus from the 1960s but with venomous spines that protrude like spears.

            We’re writing about yet another invasive predator because of a report this week in Live Science under the headline “taking over the Atlantic,” following a report last month by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

            “NOAA researchers have concluded that invasive lionfish populations will continue to grow and cannot be eliminated using conventional methods,” NOAA said in a release.

            What that means, often, is spearfishing for them, which seems fitting. Lionfish have 18 of their own needle-sharp spines that eject venom at their prey, typically juvenile fish and crabs. Then, in the blink of an eye, they swallow the prey whole. They have few natural predators (guess why). And they reproduce rapidly, with females known to produce two million eggs.

            Like invasive blue catfish in Chesapeake Bay, lionfish are spreading where they shouldn’t because of human error. They’re native to the South Pacific and Indian oceans but showed up off the Florida coast in the 1980s, probably after release from aquaria.

            We’ve heard no reports of them swimming in the Chesapeake, but thought you should be forewarned. They’re venomous but not poisonous. As with blue cats, scientists say this about the spread of lionfish: “You have to eat them to beat them.”