Detection, tracking, and removal of non-native marine fishes in Florida

Science Center Objects

Thirty-four species of non-native marine fishes have been documented in Florida, and their distributions are currently being tracked via the US Geological Survey’s Nonindigenous Aquatic Species (USGS-NAS) database.

The Science Issue and Relevance: Thirty-four species of non-native marine fishes have been documented in Florida, and their distributions are currently being tracked via the US Geological Survey’s Nonindigenous Aquatic Species (USGS-NAS) database. Most of these species are from the Indo-West Pacific Ocean, and many are likely released aquarium pets. Presently, only lionfishes (Pterois volitans and P. miles) have established self-sustaining populations and spread throughout the region. All other non-native marine fishes have (to date) only been seen singly or in small groups. Sometimes many years pass between sightings, such as in the case of the spotted scat (Scatophagus argus) that was collected in Cedar Key (Gulf of Mexico) in 1992, then not seen again until a second specimen was taken in the Indian River Lagoon (Atlantic Coast) in 2011. Other species have been spotted more often, such as the emperor angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator) that was seen 15 times in a five-year period off southeast Florida.

The USGS-NAS database is the national repository and clearinghouse for sightings information of introduced aquatic fauna. The appearance and spread of non-native marine fishes is a relatively new phenomenon, and precise tracking of the status and distribution of those species is important for decision making and resource management. Additionally, Florida is a known hotspot of non-native marine fish invasions. It is important to maintain current information on the distributions of non-native marine species and remove them from the environment when possible.

Methodology for Addressing the Issue: Working with local partners (e.g., state wildlife agencies, conservation organizations, university researchers, commercial fishermen, citizen scientists), sightings of non-native marine fishes are verified and documented. When possible, specimens are collected and curated in museums for future analyses. Sometimes it is possible to remove non-native marine fishes soon after they are detected. Scientists from the USGS and Reef Environmental Education Foundation (a non-profit organization) have successfully captured and removed several species quickly after they were found. Often, these specimens are donated to public aquaria (e.g., National Aquarium in Baltimore) where they are put on display to warn the public about the dangers of releasing pets.

The PI regularly provides outreach materials, scientific data and interviews to media, conservation organizations and governmental agencies to educate the public regarding potential negative consequences of introductions of non-native marine fishes. 

Panther Grouper (Chromileptes altivelis)

Panther Grouper (Chromileptes altivelis)

A variety of informational and educational products are produced. The USGS-NAS website provides distribution maps as well as factsheets for each species that supply biological and ecological information. A field guide to the non-native marine fishes of Florida was published in 2009. Additionally, PIs work regularly with other researchers to analyze larger patterns of marine fish introductions and impacts, which are reported in scientific journals.

Future Steps: Sightings of non-native marine fishes will continue to be collected, verified, and entered into the USGS-NAS database. This requires continual networking with government, academic, and public organizations to ensure rapid collection of sighting data. Whenever possible, new species will be removed from the environment as soon as they are detected. Species profiles on the USGS-NAS website will be continually updated, incorporating new information on distribution and impacts. We will continue to generate publications describing general patterns of non-native marine fish introductions, as well as reports targeting specific taxonomic groups or geographic regions.