Nonnative Fish Species Detected In Gulf Waters

Jan 26, 2016
Originally published on January 26, 2016 3:00 pm

Researchers are concerned about another nonnative species moving into Florida waters. Schools of the regal damselfish now live in coral reefs on the western side of the Gulf of Mexico. The fish are not harmful, but they could be a nuisance.

Regal damselfish are tiny—between 2 and 4 inches long. And they have a slight bluish tint. They’re pretty and easy to care for, so they’ve become a popular aquarium fish.

Nova Southeastern University researcher Matthew Johnston said pet owners sometimes dump their unwanted and nonnative fish into the Gulf. And he said that’s why regal damselfish are now appearing off the coast of Veracruz, Mexico.

Johnston said he’s worried the nonnative regal damsels will directly compete with other native damselfish species in the Gulf.

“The potential harm is they would force them from their habitats, disrupt their breeding," said Johnston. "If they’re territorial, may force other damselfish away from prime habitat or compete with them for food.”

However, Johnston said the current is weak where the damsel fish are right now. So he doesn't think they’ll spread quickly. Johnston said potential damage to marine life is far off, but he said this is an awareness issue – that people who release their nonnative fish into open waters can cause great negative impacts.

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