What are Lionfish?

A live Lionfish swimming at the bottom of the ocean, above the corals

Lionfish (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) are a venomous, spiny fish with a native habitat range in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and are an invasive species that threaten local reef systems throughout the Caribbean and along the southeastern seaboard of the United States. 

They are popular with aquarium enthusiasts around the world and it is likely these fish were introduced to the Atlantic via the aquarium trade or ballast tanks of transoceanic vessels.

Lionfish are known to be highly territorial and can be found offshore or in estuaries. In Florida, lionfish have been found in all water depths; on hard bottom, mangrove, seagrass, coral, artificial reefs, oyster reefs, seawalls and other manmade structures.

Impacts on Reefs

A man catching a Lionfish at the ocean using two small fish nets

Since lionfish are not native to Atlantic waters, they have very few predators. They are carnivores that feed on small crustaceans and fish, including the young of commercial fish species such as snapper and grouper.

With their voracious appetites, lionfish can reduce populations of juvenile and small fish on coral reefs by up to 90 percent.

Lionfish may indirectly affect corals by over-consuming grazing parrot fishes, which normally prevent algae from growing over corals.

Lionfish will affect native fish populations and commercial fishing industries that are important to Martin County marine industries.