Lionfish 'Invasion' Spreads to Atlantic Ocean: Deep-Diving, Predatory Fish Growing Rapidly

Lionfish, a venomous and predatory fish native to the Pacific and Indian Oceans, has been discovered in the Atlantic and Caribbean at deep-sea depths, according to reports. Researchers believe the fish could be having a negative impact on other fish, as the lionfish have no natural predators to control their already burgeoning population.

The lionfish were located last month on an Atlantic deep-sea expedition to areas 300 feet beneath the surface. Stephanie Green, a post-doctoral associate at Oregon State University's Hixon Lab and the lead scientist on the project, said the lionfish "invasion" most likely started near South Florida, when residents released their unwanted pets.

"Genetic work has showed that the whole invasion began from a few releases," said Dr. Green. "There is strong evidence that the lionfish is having negative effects on the native population," she said. "We don't see any signal that anything is controlling lionfish population."

Dr. Green's report, which was published in PLOS One, showed that many of the lionfish live deep underwater, with scientists speculating that the habitat may have been adopted to ensure their growth.

"We expected some populations of lionfish at that depth, but their numbers and size were a surprise. This was kind of an 'Ah hah!' moment," Green said. "There's some concern that the lionfish might be using a deep-sea refuge."

Lionfish are usually between 12 and 15 inches long, but Oregon State researchers said some of the specimens they found were as long as 16 inches. Because they will eat almost any fish smaller than itself- that's 70 percent of all fish, according to statistics- scientists fear that the predator is the reason for the decrease in other fish populations.

One method for battling the growing lionfish problem is to drive up dinner table demand. The Reef Environmental Education Fund created a cookbook for lionfish recipes, and divers have been removing the fish from Florida's shallow coral reefs, according to the Christian Science Monitor. However, that technique may not work when the lionfish resides in deeper areas.

"The control measures we're using at shallower depths- catch them and let people eat them- are not as practical at great depths," Green added.