The Lion Fish Origin Myth

posted in: Cozumel Natural History | 0

This myth maintains that the lion fish which have invaded our Caribbean waters originated from six captive examples, whose aquarium at a restaurant in Biscayne Bay broke and the six fish escaped when Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida in 1992.   As with most myths, there is a smidgeon of truth to this statement, but it does not tell the whole story.

Yes, six lion fish may have escaped from an aquarium in Biscayne Bay during Hurricane Andrew (see Courtenay, 1995) but there were previous reports and sightings of lion fish near Dania, Florida as early as 1985 (see Morris and Akins, 2009; also Schofield, 2009).   The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) points out these earlier sighting in their Technical Memorandum NOS NCCOS 99.

Dr. Walter Courtenay himself has tried to retract the statement he published about the Biscayne Bay aquarium being the origin of the infestation: “It was second-hand information,” he said in 2010, “which unfortunately continues to spread, so that Andrew is often mentioned as the reason for the catastrophic lion fish invasion.

There were other pre-Andrew reports of lion fish along the south Florida coast from the late 1980s up through 2000 and 2001, when NOAA documented examples found in water of the coast of North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Bermuda (Whitfield et al, 2002).   In 2004, lion fish were first reported in the Bahamas (Snyder and Burgess 2006).
So, where did these pre-Hurricane Andrew Atlantic lion fish originate?   All indications point to intentional releases of aquarium fish, mostly likely during several separate events and at several different locations along the eastern coast of the United States.   These unfortunate intentional releases are having disastrous results, similar to the ecological damage caused by the intentional release of the first Boas in Cozumel in 1971 by the production crew filming El jardín de tía Isabel.


Copyright 2014, Ric Hajovsky