This is so not good! Late last month, FWC officer Michael Morrison observed a lionfish swimming off the Laishley Pier in Punta Gorda. This is the third documented lionfish sighting inside Charlotte Harbor, and it’s also the most up harbor. Laishley Pier is actually on the Peace River.
What’s not good about this beautiful fish? Well, for starters, it doesn’t belong here. Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific, but unfortunately they are well established throughout the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic to North Carolina, and the Caribbean.
The lionfish established here comprise two species, Pterois volitans, the red lionfish and P. miles, the devil firefish. The lions share, 93 percent of those established, are red lionfish. Genetic studies indicate that lionfish in the Atlantic are likely all descendants of a few individuals, which is consistent with the widely held belief that lionfish were introduced into the Atlantic as a result of accidental or deliberate release of aquarium pets. Isolated lionfish sightings were first documented in southeast Florida in the 1980s, and by the early 2000s they were established in that area. They then expanded to the Bermuda (2004), the Bahamas (2005), the Turks and Caicos (2008), the Cayman Islands and the Florida Keys (2009) and the Gulf of Mexico (2010). Today, they are a common sighting on any reef, in the listed areas — natural or manmade, including those off southwest Florida.
One of the more interesting parts of being a Sea Grant Agent is when people send me their ‘Do you know what this is?’ mystery finds. A recent one came from my friend Kelly. Kelly’s husband Jimmy, a commercial blue crabber, found it in his trap up in the Peace River. Now it’s no surprise that strange creatures lurk amongst us, but every so often one pops up that is just absolutely ‘made for movies’ odd looking, and the photo Kelly sent me was right up there in that category.
When I looked at the picture I immediately thought some kind of prawn (large shrimp) but not being a freshwater guru I really wasn’t certain so I reached out to a few scientist friends. Between them I learned there are native freshwater shrimp, got a couple of papers to help me key Jimmy’s critter out, and got a contact at the Florida Museum of Natural History who would be able to confirm the identification.