First lionfish found off Anna MariaFrom the August 11, 2010 Issue
PHOTO PROVIDED/KEVIN LAUSMAN
Kevin Lausman, of Bradenton, found the
first lionfish in area waters seven miles off
Bean Point on Thursday.
ANNA MARIA – A local diver discovered the first lionfish in area waters seven miles off Bean Point on Thursday, startling scientists who were unaware that the venomous, non-native fish had arrived here.
“The genie is out of the bottle. We were thinking that our local limestone ledges would not be suitable for this species,” said John Stevely, local extension agent for the Florida Sea Grant program, adding that the Pacific Ocean fish was introduced into the Atlantic Ocean, possibly by a pet owner, and has rapidly spread to the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.
Also known as the scorpionfish or firefish, the lionfish has poisonous barbs containing a venom that can cause nausea, breathing difficulties and even death in sensitive people.
“Pterois volitans has a very, very painful sting, and the barbs go through everything,” Stevely said.
Kevin Lausman, a member of the Manatee County Sea Grant Extension Advisory Committee, was diving with two buddies, Larry Borden, also a committee member, and Tim Adams, on Thursday when he noticed something protruding from a rock that looked like it didn’t belong there.
“I saw something under a ledge, and thought, ‘I don’t believe I’m looking at that,’ ” said Lausman, who grew up on Anna Maria Island, where his uncle operated a bait shop.
The divers, all aquarium enthusiasts, had a capture net on board and carefully scooped up the lionfish, which now lives in Lausman’s home aquarium.
It’s the first sighting of a lionfish in local waters, but not the first in Florida.
In January 2009, the first lionfish was reported in the Florida Keys, and researchers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently collected two juvenile lionfish from the Gulf of Mexico, 99 and 160 miles off the southwest coast of Florida, north of the Dry Tortugas and west of Cape Romano.
The fish have few known predators, and compete with native fish species, which concerns scientists.
Research indicates that local populations are descendents of a few individuals, supporting the theory that lionfish were introduced to the Atlantic by a home aquarium owner.
In the Caribbean, people are encouraged to eat the fish to reduce the population, Stevely said, adding that only the barbs are poisonous.
If you see a lionfish, do not touch it; note the location, depth, number and size of the fish and call 252-728-8714 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.