NANFA-- marine non-natives in the Fl Keys
Tue, 27 Apr 2004 15:10:24 EDT

Molasses Reef hunt targets non-native batfish

Citizen Staff Writer

MOLASSES REEF b It's not what you would call a manhunt, but a posse has
formed to bring in a couple of Monroe County fugitives that have been on the

Officials on Friday will attempt to capture two elusive batfish believed to
have been living on a Keys reef for the past several years. In 2000, members
REEF, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Keys
National Marine Sanctuary captured two exotic orbicular batfish b native to
Indo-Pacific waters b and put them in an aquarium in New England. However, a
third batfish proved too wily, REEF Executive Director Lad Akins said. Another
batfish now has been spotted in the area.

REEF is a nonprofit group involved in marine education and environmental

REEF members, National Marine Sanctuary officers and Florida Aquarium workers
will dive on Molasses Reef b one of the Keys' most popular shallow reefs b
to capture and remove the fish. Officials hope to remove the fish before they
can breed and compete with native Florida Keys species for food and shelter.

However, catching them could prove to be no simple task. It took several
hours to catch the first two batfish in 2000, Akins said. Batfish have the
flat look and size, and silver and black stripping, of a spadefish.

The capture attempt follows the release of a scientific paper by researchers
from the University of Washington and REEF identifying South Florida as a hot
spot for sightings of marine exotics. While the waters off the Florida Keys
have not become inundated with non-native species, waters offshore Broward and
Miami-Dade counties are home to at least 16 different species of non-native
fish, Akins said.

Once captured, the batfish will live at the Florida Aquarium, where they will
serve as "poster fish" for the campaign to educate the public about dangers
posed by releasing exotic species into the ocean, Florida Keys National Marine
Sanctuary's Cheva Heck said.

"Normally, by the time you know what the impact is, it's too late," Heck
said. "We don't want to give them the chance to breed and compete with native

Akins and Heck believe the fish were probably introduced to the reef from an
aquarium owner who did not want to destroy the pets when they became to large
for the tank. It is illegal to put pet fish in state and National Marine
Sanctuary waters.

There also is discussion on a state level about more stringent laws on the
release of sharks and rays, because of the danger of introducing fish with
parasite and behavioral problems, Florida Fish and Wildlife Environmental
Administrator Jon Dodrill said. The Key Largo-based Marine Mammal Conservancy
released several nurse sharks back into the wild in recent years after the
had outgrown their tanks in aquariums and bars.
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