Invasive Lionfish Caught for the First Time in UK Waters

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Lionfish are well established in the Mediterranean Sea (Photo: Vitaliy6447/Shutterstock)

A lionfish has been caught by an amateur angler off the south coast of England at Chesil Beach in Dorset, the first time the invasive species has ever been recorded in UK waters.

Lionfish, a familiar sight to divers throughout the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, are known for their venomous spines and often calm demeanour when approached by divers. The venom is potent and can be extremely painful, but stinging incidents are rare, and – unlike the British press are claiming – very rarely fatal, and then only in exceptional circumstances. 

The lionfish was caught by Welsh angler Arfon Summers, 39, who was fishing from the beach with his father Bill, aged 75. 'My mind was blown,' said Summers in an interview with The Sun newspaper. 'A lionfish is a new off-shore personal best. It’s no doubt the ocean is getting warmer to house these. I didn’t let it go due to it being an invasive species.'

lionfish hunt caribbean

Lionfish have devastated the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico and are actively hunted by divers (Photo:  Drew McArthur/Shutterstock)

In recent years, lionfish have spread from their native Indo-Pacific to the tropical Atlantic coast of the Americas, where they have caused devastation to the populations of local species throughout the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. It is not known how they spread, but the top theory is that they were discarded from a tropical aquarium in Florida. They have also been found in the Mediterranean, possibly a result of having travelled from the Red Sea via the Suez Canal.

Speculation as to the source of the lionfish is inconclusive. As the solitary fish has not been sighted before and others have not been reported in the area, it is thought that its most likely origin is that of an abandoned aquarium fish, although it is hoped that – unlike Florida – it is a single example of the species. 

Lionfish are not known as distance swimmers, but lionfish expert Jason Hall-Spencer, of Plymouth University, told The Sun that 'the water is warm enough, so a lionfish could have swum over here from the western Mediterranean. If it has, it means there will likely be more and it could have huge consequences for our native species.'

Dr Oliver Crimmen, the Senior Curator of Fish at the Natural History Museum in London, says the find is important and needs to be verified. 'It is important to establish the circumstances of the catch, and to obtain the body if possible to establish which species of lionfish it is,' said Crimmen. 'If it arrived in the UK by itself from more southerly latitudes, this could be bad news since it is such a potentially invasive species.'

Anybody with any information about UK lionfish sightings is encouraged to report their findings to the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity at the Natural History Museum.

 

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