The recent introduction of invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish species (Red Lionfish Pterois volitans and Devil Firefish P. miles, hereafter collectively referred to as lionfish) into the western Atlantic Ocean has been extensively documented in both the scientific literature and the media. Nevertheless, much of the information synthesized has been obtained via diver-based surveys and there is likely a depth-related bias to the understanding of the temporal and spatial dynamics of the lionfish invasion. Accordingly, we examined data from a broadscale fisheries-independent trawl survey of bare substrates and low-relief habitats that was initiated in 2008 in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Lionfish were first observed in the survey in 2010, when two individuals were collected off southwestern Florida. The distribution of lionfish continued to expand northward through the Florida panhandle in 2011 and 2012, when 40 and 29 lionfish were collected, respectively. A dramatic increase in the abundance (391 individuals) and distribution of lionfish occurred in 2013. Evidence from this survey suggests that lionfish first colonized deeper (>30 m) low-relief habitats before populations expanded into shallower waters. The prevalence of lionfish on primarily nonreef habitats at depths beyond those frequented by recreational divers will likely have important implications for efforts to control or eradicate lionfish populations in the region. Moving forward, information from long-term, multispecies surveys such as this will continue to provide valuable insight into the spatial and temporal dynamics of the lionfish invasion and allow us to assess long-term ecological consequences of increasing lionfish abundances.
USA - Gulf of Mexico
Dredging / trawling