In a press release yesterday, the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) reported the first record of the non-native marine fish species Acanthurus pyroferus (commonly called the chocolate surgeonfish or the mimic lemon peel surgeonfish) in Florida waters. According to the release, the fish was first sighted by REEF volunteer divers Deb Devers and Lureen Ferretti in late November under the Blue Heron Bridge in Palm Beach County. It is thought the fish was most likely released secondary to the marine aquarium trade. Devers again observed the fish several weeks later, and, on 14 December, she and Lad Akins, REEF’s Director of Special Projects, captured and removed it permanently.
The fish, which was just over 10 cm in length, was shipped live to Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada where it will go on display. Ripley’s says it intends to display the fish with signage educating viewers about the dangers associated with non-native and invasive species. “The ability to display these non-native species within the aquarium community allows millions of people each year to learn about the dangers of releasing their pet fish,” says Andy Dehart, Director of Husbandry at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. “As many aquarium hobbyists frequent public aquariums it is an effective way to get the word out.” Dehart is also a member of the REEF Board of Trustees.
A. pyroferus is an Indo-Pacific species that can reach a maximum length of 29 cm. As a juvenile, it is a relatively popular aquarium fish because it mimics the bright yellow dwarf angelfish Centropyge flavissimus (commonly called the lemonpeel angelfish). that sells for around $50. As an adult, A. pyroferus takes on a purplish black to tannish brown color. Two other non-native species of surgeonfishes belonging to the genus Acanthurus have been reported in Florida waters (A. guttatus and A. sohal).
According to REEF, in excess of 30 species of non-native marine fishes have been documented in Florida coastal waters. The United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) Nonindiginous Aquatic Species (NAS) Database lists 41 species of marine (including brackish) non-native fishes in Florida waters. Of those 41 species, the USGS cites the aquarium trade as the most likely vector for the introduction of 32 of them. At this point, only the lionfish (Pterois volitans/miles) has become invasive.
“Prevention is the best case scenario,” says Akins, “but barring that, early detection and rapid response are key to preventing another lionfish-like invasion.”
REEF has been removing non-native marine fish species from Florida waters since 1996. According to the release, successful removals include four large Platax orbicularis (orbicular batfish) and a Dascyllus aruanus (whitetail dascyllus). Non-native fishes collected by REEF staff have been placed on display at public aquariums including the Florida Aquarium, the New England Aquarium and the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
“We hope that pet owners around the state understand that releasing their unwanted pets is not only bad for the environment and these animals, but it is also illegal,” said Kristen Sommers, who oversees the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s exotic fish and wildlife program. “We encourage owners needing to find homes for their fish, snakes, birds and other non-native animals to call the FWC’s Exotic Species Hotline at 1-888-IveGot1 for assistance.”
A paper in the journal Marine Policy recently linked large fishes in the aquarium trade–so-called “tankbusters”–to intentional releases by home aquarists. The authors of the paper recommended the trade take a proactive approach to limiting the availability of these animals that grow too large for the vast majority of home aquaria.