Atlantic-Bred Lionfishes

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Juvenile lionfishes captured off Long Island, 2006. Images © Todd R. Gardner

By Todd R. Gardner

Editor's Note: Todd Gardner was the first to capture and report Common Lionfish Pterois volitans juveniles spawned somewhere on the East Coast of North America.

Because they were smaller than any imported lionfish available in the aquarium hobby, these specimens offered near-proof that P. volitans was breeding, for the first time, in the Atlantic Ocean.

I caught two Pterois volitans in Fire Island inlet on Long Island.

These were the first two young-of-year lionfish caught in the Atlantic.

Until then, there had been scattered reports of adults on reefs and wrecks from South Florida to North Carolina.

We got none here this year.

Young feral lionfish on display at Atlantis Marine World. "I have no trouble keeping this exhibit stocked with wild-caught Atlantic-spawned lionfish," says biologist Todd Gardner.

We got several in 2004 and 2005.

This season, we caught several hundred. It was common to come back from a single dive with 20-30 juvenile lionfish. Usually, I would have to stop collecting them when my collection bags were full (sometimes after only 15 minutes).

In spite of at least as much collecting effort as the previous year, we got just 2.

[edit] Notes

  • All Long Island lionfish were collected between late July and late October. In 2005, one of the specimens collected in October was in 56-degree F water, with a full stomach. Some experts believe that they stop feeding at 55-degrees F and die at 50-degrees F.
  • At the beginning of each season, lionfish measure about 2 cm, SL and by October they are coming in at 6-8 cm.
  • One thing I try to point out to people—and they should be able to draw this conclusion themselves from the Long Island collection data—is that the high numbers we got in 2006 don't necessarily represent a surge in the overall population. It is more likely that a pocket of Gulf Stream water rich in Pterois larvae happened to collide with Long Island that year. Some years we get hundreds of squirrelfish, or lookdowns, or marine angelfish, and then the following year we'll see very few.
  • In the spring of 2007, I went diving on some wrecks off North Carolina to see some adult lionfish first hand. I collected one, filleted it and ate it so I could be speaking from experience when I lecture to people that they are not poisonous, but rather, venomous.
  • The meat was great.

Todd Gardner is a biologist at Atlantis Marine World in Riverhead, New York.


Lionfish Invasion Spreads

Lionfish Sightings Large Map

[Original Report by the author in Advanced Aquarist's Online Magazine]