The lionfish, a native of the Western Pacific Ocean, is a venomous, voracious predator that’s flourishing in coastal waters of the U.S. Southeast and the Caribbean. This invasive species has the potential to harm reef ecosystems because it is a top predator that competes for food and space with overfished native stocks such as snapper and grouper. Scientists fear that lionfish will also kill off helpful species such as algae-eating parrotfish, allowing seaweed to overtake the reefs.
In the United States, the lionfish population is continuing to grow and increase its range. This is largely because lionfish have no known predators and reproduce all year long; a mature female releases roughly two million eggs a year.
Fortunately for our coral reefs, the flashy lionfish has caught the attention of the hungriest predators of all: people! Once stripped of its venomous spines, cleaned, and filleted like any other fish, the lionfish becomes delectable seafood fare. NOAA scientists researching the lionfish’s spread and impact are now encouraging a seafood market as one way to mitigate the species’ impacts on reef communities.