Non-native Marine Fishes in Florida

Science Center Objects

Learn which non-native marine fish species have been observed or collected Florida waters. 

Zanclus cornutus

The Moorish idol (Zanclus cornutus) is a common aquarium fish and has been introduced to Florida waters, making it a non-native species.

Courtesy of Jack Randall

Non-native Species: Why - and How - We Track Them

Non-native species (also known as nonindigenous species) are those that have been introduced to areas outside of their native range. Sometimes the introduction of non-native species can be intentional, such as stocking for fisheries enhancement, or non-intentional, such as accidental release of aquaculture organisms or transport in shipping ballast. When non-native organisms enter a new environment, they can cause negative effects such as competing or preying on native plants/animals or introducing disease. If a breeding population is established, these impacts can sometimes cause significant damage to the health of native ecosystems, humans, and our economy, at which point the species is considered invasive. Increased  global trade in our modern times, as well as environmental vagaries due to global climate change, may increase the potential for introduction and establishment of non-native species.

The USGS’s Nonindigenous Aquatic Species (USGS NAS) database tracks aquatic non-native species, including plants, crustaceans, mollusks, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, in the United States. This information resource has been established as a central repository for spatially-referenced accounts of introduced aquatic species. For each species, information on its biology and ecology are presented along with distribution maps created from sightings reports. All distribution data, species profiles, and maps are publicly available. 

Natural resource managers rely on the USGS NAS database to better understand the distribution of non-native aquatic species and to inform early detection, rapid response efforts so that potentially problematic species can be removed quickly to prevent their spread in freshwater or marine ecosystems. Non-native and invasive species are considered one of the greatest threats to marine biodiversity worldwide and have the potential to negatively impact already vulnerable coastal ecosystems, such as coral reefs. In coastal states, like Florida, healthy marine ecosystems are critical, as they provide important services like protection from storms; income from fisheries, recreation, and eco-tourism; and help prevent erosion. The presence of non-native species could disrupt and damage these services. 

 

Non-native Marine Fishes in Florida

In Florida’s coastal waters, dozens of non-native marine fish species have been documented, including lionfishes (Pterois volitans and P. miles).  The most recent published summary of these fishes, based on reports sent to the USGS-NAS Database, includes information collected through 2018 (Schofield and Akins 2019). However, new reports of non-native marine fishes are received regularly. This webpage reflects the most recent information available by directly linking species lists, range maps and profiles to the information available in the USGS-NAS database. Thus, as information in the database is updated and new species records are added, those updates will be reflected here. At the time of this writing (September 2020), 43 non-native marine fish species have been recorded from Florida’s waters. Of those, six species have established (reproducing) populations.

Records of non-native marine fish sightings are received by the USGS-NAS database from a variety of sources, including citizen scientists, published scientific reports, and personal communications from natural-resource managers, biologists, and others. The Reef Environmental Education Foundation, a citizen-science organization, has been a longstanding contributor of marine fish records to the USGS-NAS database. 

To report a sighting of a non-native fish, go to: https://nas.er.usgs.gov/sightingreport.aspx

 

How to Use This Guide

 

Non-native Marine Fishes Observed or Collected in Florida Waters

Non-native Marine Fishes Observed or Collected in Florida Waters - Organized by Family

Non-native Marine Fishes Observed or Collected in Waters Adjacent to Florida

 

 

Reported lionfish sightings: Animated Map (1985 - 2020)

Reported lionfish sightings: Animated Map (1985 - 2020)

Data source/map created by: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database 

Here is a list of non-native marine fish species observed or collected in Florida. Each species is linked to a fact sheet with information on identification, biology and ecology. Maps indicate species occurrences linked to USGS-NAS data, which is available for download. Data may be downloaded directly from the map page of a particular species or you can contact Dr. Pam Schofield directly with your inquiry (see contact information below).

Also presented below is a list of species that have not been documented from Florida but occur in adjacent regions (Central and South America, Caribbean). Those species are included because they may make their way to Florida either through natural dispersal or by secondary human-mediated introductions.

Each species has been assigned a status based on the most recent evidence available. These evaluations correspond to the species’ current population status in coastal waters of the state of Florida.

  • Established: Populations that are reproducing, evidenced by the presence of juveniles and numerous adults, including adults in breeding condition. 
  • Unknown: Insufficient information to determine status.
  • Eradicated: All individuals reported were subsequently removed from the wild. 
  • Failed: Species not seen since it was detected (at least ten years prior); likely never reproduced. 
    • **Note** The designation of “failed” is a presumption, as it can never be proven that the fish is no longer present in the wild. We base this designation on a few lines of evidence: The locations from which these fishes were reported are not remote or difficult to access and are regularly visited by divers. We chose ten years since the last sighting as the cut-off for assigning species status, reasoning that most non-native fishes would have either died or been seen and reported again within that time frame.
  • Eradicated/Failed indicates that some individuals of the population were removed from Florida’s waters and other individuals are considered failed because there have been no recent sightings (within ten years).

 

Special thanks to Denise Gregoire-Lucente, Amy Benson and Mary Brown for their assistance in keeping the USGS-NAS records and species profiles up to date.  Kaitlin Kovacs assisted with the webpage.  We are grateful to the many individuals that have submitted sighting information to the USGS-NAS database.

 

For more information, contact: 

Pamela J. Schofield, Ph.D. 

Research Fish Biologist.

Wetland and Aquatic Research Center

U.S. Geological Survey, Gainesville, FL

lionfish@usgs.gov

 

To cite this webpage:  Schofield, P.  2020.  Non-native Marine Fishes in Florida. https://www.usgs.gov/centers/wetland-and-aquatic-research-center-warc/science/non-native-marine-fishes-florida?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects.  Accessed date: [insert date].