A potentially dangerous fish has made its way to the Texas Coast and it is not far from Galveston.
Three separate lionfish have been spotted at Flower Garden Banks National Maritime Sanctuary, which lies east of Galveston and about 100 miles south of the Texas-Louisiana border. The coral reefs there are popular among scuba divers and fishing enthusiasts.
The lionfish is a distinctive-looking animal native to the semitropical waters off Southeast Asia. It is striped, has long, venomous spines and large fins. Adults are about 12 inches long.
But it is not the way the lionfish looks that has people concerned. It’s the fact that it is a voracious predator.
“It lives off (reefs and structures like oil rigs) and feeds on other important recreational and commercial fish, like grouper and snapper,” said Lance Robinson, executive director of coastal fisheries for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.
Emma Hickerson, a research coordinator at Flower Garden Banks, agreed.
“They are pretty indiscriminate. They eat fish, crabs, shrimp, everything,” she said.
The species is also extremely thorough.
“What we have seen in the Tortugas and the Florida Keys is that they dominate and there are no small fish left,” Hickerson said.
The presence of the lionfish also can create a cascade of problems. It often feeds on parrotfish, which eat algae. If there are no parrotfish, the algae will grow unabated and can smother the coral.