Mystery fish invades Keys waters from the Pacific

 

KeysNet.com

Deep-diving spearfishermen surfaced with a mystery last month south of Pacific Reef Light off North Key Largo.

"I was shocked when I saw it," Wayne Grammes said. "It’s an ugly-looking fish with a face on it that looks like a tripletail and a tail like a jewfish."

The 15-pound, 27-inch fish speared by Greg Caterino of Tavernier turned out to be a humpback grouper — a species native not to Pacific Reef but to the tropical Pacific Ocean off Asia.

"This is the equivalent of a hunter in North America finding a zebra," said Grammes, who was fishing Dec. 23 with Caterino.

"We’ve seen the successful marine invasion of lionfish," Reef Environmental Education Foundation Project Director Lad Akins said this week. "We certainly do not want to see it happen again with another Pacific species."

Akins, a renowned expert in fish identification, confirmed the speared fish was a humpback grouper. With an array of black spots, it’s also known as a panther grouper.

"This is not the first time these have been sighted in Florida," Akins said. "There have been five or six reported as far back as the 1980s, but all from different parts of the state."

"The juveniles are really popular in the aquarium trade," Akins said. "It’s quite likely that this is released fish."

Young humpback grouper sport a brilliant white color with an attractive spray of black spots. But they outgrow most privately owned saltwater tanks — and cast a hungry eye on other tank fish. "Just like lionfish, they are carnivores," Akins said.

At 27 inches, the humpback grouper was nearly as large as they grow, Akins said.

Caterino and Grammes, a Miami-Dade resident and frequent Keys diver, were searching a deep ledge about 95 feet down when they saw what appeared to be a black grouper. After it was taken, it was apparent that it was not something local, Grammes said.

The humpback grouper bears a passing similarity to the marbled grouper, a native species that is considered rare.

"This could be only the tip of the iceberg," Grammes said. "Who knows how many are down there? This was in an area where not many people go."

Lionfish gained a foothold in the U.S. and Caribbean largely due to their prolific breeding and venomous spines that fend off predators.

Humpback grouper could lack defenses needed to become established, Akins said, "but we really don’t know."

Due to the possibility of mistaking a humpback for a protected native species, Akins said, people seeing one should report its location to REEF rather than harvest it. To find out how, go to www.reef.org.

Read more Top Stories stories from the Miami Herald

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category