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Lionfish : Home

Lionfishes are venomous species of scorpionfishes which are native to Indo-Pacific coral reef ecosystems and adjacent habitats. Through accidental and/or purposeful release into Atlantic waters, they have become established as a highly problematic alien species that poses a serious threat to coral reefs along the east coast of the United States of America, Bermuda, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean islands, Central America and northern South America.

The first confirmed sighting of the alien invasive lionfish species in Barbados waters was November 2011. In response, a lionfish response plan for Barbados was formulated in 2011, while 2012 saw an explosion of various lionfish initiatives:
  • public awareness campaigns
  • creation of a 24-hour hotline
  • creation of a Facebook page  
  • pre-lionfish baseline surveys 
Of major concern were reports from elsewhere in the region that the lionfish is an extremely hardy species, surviving in a range of environments and significantly reducing reef fish and shell fish populations.

In November 2014, Barbados’ first lionfish derby was held. Subsequent to 2014, annual derbies have been the major management effort employed to control populations of lionfish on our reefs. Apart from removal of fish, derbies serve as an excellent data collection event, allowing lengths, weights and in some cases sex to be recorded while allowing for the collection of samples for genetic analysis. Derbies also support the ongoing efforts to increase public awareness regarding the consumption of lionfish and the promotion of a fishery. Various restaurants across the island (e.g. Bento Box and Marco Polo Bar & Grill) have placed lionfish on their menus, at some point in time, and a growing number of fishers and locals seek out the highly delicious and nutritious fish.


There are two species of lionfish (Pterois volitans and P. miles) which are morphologically similar and distinguishable in their native range based on P. volitans exhibiting one higher count of dorsal and anal fin rays when compared to P. miles. In their invaded range (i.e. the Atlantic) the two species are visually identical and can only be told apart by examining genetic markers.

Native species misidentified as lionfish


Range Map (source: CAR-SPAW-RAC)

The lionfish is native to the Indo-Pacific region. The native range of Pterois volitans is shown in green while the native range of Pterois miles is shown in blue on the range map. The non-native range of P. volitans and P. miles in the Americas is shown in red while the predicted future distribution of lionfish along coastal South America is represented by the red hatching.

It is believed that the marine ornamental aquarium trade led to the introduction of lionfish into the United States of America from its native Indo-Pacific region. The initial confirmed lionfish sighting in the wild in the United States of America occurred in 1985, off Dania Beach, Florida. The actual means of escape into the wild is unknown, but it is postulated that they were either deliberately released by pet owners or escaped confinement from an aquarium during a storm event. 

The invasion of the lionfish, along the east coast of the United States and into the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea has been regarded as one of the most rapid marine finfish invasions in history. (see regional invasion progression). The islands of the Lesser Antilles remained some of the last islands to be invaded within the Caribbean, with Barbados recording its first confirmed sighting in November, 2011 (see Lesser Antilles invasion).

After the first confirmed sighting of a lionfish in Barbados (November 24, 2011) only a total of six were reported within the subsequent six months. From August 2012, there was a marked increase in the rate of reported sightings with a reported total of 54 confirmed sightings after one year (up to 15 November 2012; see Barbados lionfish invasion).

Regional lionfish invasion (1985 - 2018)

Source: USGS Wetlands and Aquatic Research Center

Lesser Antilles invasion (2010 - 2012)

Barbados lionfish invasion

Red dots: confirmed sightings within the first six months
Green dots: confirmed sightings within the subsequent six months

Biology and Ecology
• life span: up to 15 yr
• sexual maturity: within 1 year
• highly prolific: up to 30,000 every 7 days
• seasonality of reproduction: reproduce during all seasons of the year
• size: maximum of 45 cm (20 in)
• weight: up to 1.2 kg (2.6 lbs)
• diet: broad diet (voracious, generalist carnivores consuming juvenile fish and crustaceans)
• habitat preference: general (habitats - coral and hard bottom to artificial reefs, mangroves, and seagrass beds;     depth - 0 - 1000 m (>3000 ft)
• predators: none known in the Atlantic
• natural defense: 18 venomous spines (containing apocrine-type venom glands)

Click here to learn more about Lionfish sting first aid and treatment

Major Concerns

Ecological impacts
  • threat to native fish species - lionfish consumption of herbivorous fishes (e.g. parrotfishes and surgeonfishes) could reduce the functional role of herbivores in keeping algae in check, a process which plays a key role in maintaining healthy and attractive reefs for recreational divers and dive-operators (an industry that generates millions of dollars annually in Barbados: Gill 2014)
  • threat to fishery resources - lionfish may compete for resources (e.g. food and space) with economically important species such as parrotfishes and surgeonfishes, which are among the most important target families in the nearshore fisheries of Barbados, providing important income to fishers and fish protein to Barbadians, in small scale fisheries that are estimated to generate several million dollars annually in landings revenues alone (Maraj et al. 2011, Schuhmann et al. 2011, Simpson et al. in press)
  • accelerated degradation of coral reef ecosystem health - in conjunction with the existing reef stressors (which include bleaching events, climate change, ocean acidification, overfishing, and pollution) the impacts of lionfish can accelerate the degradation of coral reef ecosystem health. The ultimate impact of this scenario would be the loss of vital ecosystem services provided by reefs, including those critical to Barbados (e.g. provision of food and livelihood security to reef fishers and the wider community; aesthetic quality and value to the watersports tourism sector; provision of white sand beaches and coastal protection)

Socioeconomic impacts
  • the fishing and tourism sectors, two extremely important sectors in many Caribbean islands, are highly vulnerable - competition with and predation by lionfish could cause a decrease in landings, hamper stock rebuilding efforts, and slow conservation-based initiatives, ultimately affecting food security and livelihoods. 

Threat to human health (envenomations)
  • increased densities of lionfish increases the potential for lionfish envenomations and thus reduced recreational activities. The toxin in lionfish venom contains acetylcholine and a neurotoxin that affects neuromuscular transmission. Lionfish venom has been found to cause cardiovascular, neuromuscular, and cytolytic effects ranging from mild reactions such as swelling to extreme pain and paralysis in upper and lower extremities. The severity of sting reactions in humans is dependent upon such factors as the amount of venom delivered, the immune system of the victim, and the location of the sting.
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