By Daniel Harper
Greek scientists have recently launched an attempt to record the actual number of alien fish species from the Red Sea which have “invaded” the Aegean and the Ionian Seas over the last several years.
They also hope to assess the impact these unwelcome species have already had on the environment — as well as on humans, given that some are toxic and dangerous to consume.
Among the most common are the the lionfish and puffer fish, both poisonous, which are causing trouble in the marine habitat around Greece and Cyprus.
Perhaps surprisingly, the nations of the European Union is now host to over 1,300 alien species. This has occurred either through migration due to loss of habitat, or more commonly, through human interference; remember how the Dutch brought rubber trees from South America to Indonesia during the 19th century.
The lionfish (Pterois miles) was first spotted in the Mediterranean in April of 2015. Originally found in the Red Sea, it had made its way into the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal. This was only part of what is called the larger “Lessepsian Migration” of marine life through the canal.
A study performed by from the group Biomedical Central in 2016 on the movement of the Lionfish stated that there was “evidence from divers and fishermen that lionfish have recently increased in abundance and within a year colonized almost the entire southeastern coast of Cyprus.”
The Lionfish has poisonous spines, but they can be removed during the cooking process and otherwise they are an edible. They have for the most part made their new home within the Southern Aegean and the Sea of Crete.
Most dangerous of all the invasive fish species to come from this migration through the Suez Canal is the Silver-cheeked Toadfish or Puffer Fish (Lagocephalus sceleratus). This species is so extremely poisonous that it cannot be eaten without serious risk of being effected by its natural toxins, even when cooked.
Footage captured on the island of Karpathos late in May of 2019 shows this fish swimming near the beach, where dozens of curious swimmers gathered to get a glimpse of the unusual specimen. It was reported that the fish even bit the finger of a swimmer.
Dr. Agyro Zenetos, Research Director at the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, when referring to this invasion “you cannot eliminate, only manage.” Zenetos suggests that raising awareness and equipping fishermen with proper equipment for handling such invasive species, including the Lionfish and the Blue Crab, which causes tears in fishermen’s nets.
The newest species to be spotted coming through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean is the Striped Eel Catfish (Plotosus lineatus). This considered to be an edible but they do sport venomous spines.
The European Environment Agency, which not only monitors but also works to regulate, prevent and manage alien and invasive species within Europe, has now placed the Striped Catfish on a list of Invasive Alien Species Regulation (IAS), for the first time ever.
The Lionfish and Puffer Fish are now candidates themselves for joining the IAS’ alien species regulation list due to their disruption of habitats in and around the Mediterranean.