Invasive Fish With Venomous Spines Spotted in UK Waters for the First Time

A potentially deadly and invasive fish species, the lionfish, has been caught in Dorset, United Kingdom, in what is believed to be a first for the region. Now, scientists are aiming to discover what brought this particular fish to the area, and what repercussions its presence might have on the local ecosystems.

Native to the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, Lionfish are known for their prominent, spiky dorsal spines. Via these spines, the species can "deliver a venomous sting that can last for days," explained the National Ocean Service. Symptoms of a lionfish sting can include "extreme pain, sweating, respiratory distress, and even paralysis."

In addition to their fearsome reputation on the individual level, lionfish are known as an invasive species—meaning their presence has the potential to threaten entire ecosystems. Over the past fifteen years, the species had flourished in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean, all of which are areas far from their native range.

Lionfish
A lionfish swimming in an aquarium tank, 2008. KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images

Since they are primarily carnivores and have few predators in these nonnative areas, lionfish populations have exploded, all while putting continual stress on coral reef habitats.

Scientists are concerned that lionfish might pose a threat to the United Kingdom's marine ecosystems, should the species thrive.

Arfon Summer, 39, is said to have caught this particular lionfish at Chesil Beach in the south of England, reported The Independent. Having never previously been reported in British waters, the six-inch fish represents a major first for the region.

Further investigation is required to fully understand how the species might have arrived in the UK. Many, for example, suspect that lionfish populations have spread partially due to their popularity in aquariums—the fish may have escaped or been dumped by their owners. However, because of their presence in the Mediterranean, their appearance in UK waters may have a natural explanation.

"It is important to establish the circumstances of the catch, and to obtain the body if possible to establish which species of lionfish it is," explained Dr. Oliver Crimmen, the Senior Curator of Fish at London's Natural History Museum. He added: "If it arrived in the UK by itself from more southerly latitudes, this could be bad news since it is such a potentially invasive species."

If lionfish populations are found to be moving north naturally, global warming, and its rising water temperatures, may be to blame. "Anything caught in the Mediterranean can be found as a vagrant in the UK," said Dr. Crimmen. "The first instances of warm water fish from more southerly latitudes being found in the UK are a subject of great interest, as they may represent populations moving northward in response to higher coastal water temperatures."

The next step, noted the museum, is having the catch verified by the British Record Fish Committee.

Newsweek has reached out to Dr. Crimmen for additional comment.