An aggressive aquarium fish gets plucked from the ocean — and is heading to a new home

A lagoon triggerfish, native to the Indian and Pacific oceans, was captured off the coast of Fort Lauderdale this month.
A lagoon triggerfish, native to the Indian and Pacific oceans, was captured off the coast of Fort Lauderdale this month. Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science

Divers with a Key Largo environmental group helped track and remove a non-native tropical fish from the ocean off Fort Lauderdale last week.

Volunteers with the Reef Environmental and Education Foundation captured the lagoon triggerfish, which is native to the Indian and Pacific oceans, with divers from the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in downtown Miami and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The fish was the ninth non-native removed from South Florida waters since REEF and USGS started a program known as "Early Detection/Rapid Response" in 2008. It was spotted by a person snorkeling near Sunrise Boulevard, who reported it to REEF.

Like most invasive fish found off South Florida, such as the destructive lionfish, the lagoon triggerfish was likely someone's pet in a saltwater aquarium and later let go in the ocean.

"There have been 37 non-native marine fish species discovered in Florida's coastal waters, with most thought to be aquarium fish released into the ocean by humans," Amy Lee, REEF spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Lionfish adapted very well to South Florida's waters and bred rapidly. They are voracious predators. Although they have venomous spines, they are a sought-after food fish that wildlife officials and environmentalists encourage people to capture and kill. Groups like REEF are working to avoid letting other non-native fish gain a similar foothold in Florida coastal waters.

Andy Dehart, vice president of Animal Husbandry at the Frost museum, said lagoon triggerfish are popular aquarium fish, but not necessarily great tank mates with other fish.

"Lagoon triggerfish, also known as Picasso triggerfish in the pet industry, are very popular aquarium fish," Dehart said. "Their beautiful coloration makes them highly desired, but unfortunately, they can be aggressive to their fellow aquarium residents. This can lead to the pet owner releasing the fish, not realizing how bad this can be for the environment."

Over a two-day period, six divers from REEF and the Frost museum spent five hours tracking down the fish and were able to capture it using a combination of hand and barrier nets, Lee said. Lagoon triggerfish are harder to catch than other fish due to their ability to move their eyes independently of one another. They are on a constant lookout for predators.

The fish will be put into quarantine and eventually be added to an aquarium at the Frost museum, 1101 Biscayne Blvd. in downtown Miami, featuring other non-native fish captured by the Early Detection/Rapid Response program, including an orangespine unicornfish caught near Molasses Reef off Key Largo last month.

If you spot a fish you think might be non-native to South Florida, you can report it by going to www.REEF.org/programs/exotic/report, or to the U.S. Geological Survey's Non-Indigenous Aquarium Species Database at https://nas.er.usgs.gov/default.aspx.

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