Characterizing the US trade in lionfishes
Invasive lionfishes Pterois volitans and Pterois miles have spread throughout the tropical western Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Greater Caribbean. Beyond these two invaders, additional species within the subfamily Pteroinae are regularly imported into the United States. We evaluated the trade of lionfishes as a surrogate measure for propagule pressure, an important component of invasion success. Proactive evaluation of marine ornamental fishes in trade is vital, particularly for those sharing characteristics with known invaders. We utilized one year of import records from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Law Enforcement Management Information System database and two domestic databases to capture the trade of all lionfishes in the US, the invasive complex in its invaded range in Florida, and two Hawaiian endemic lionfishes. Retail surveys were completed to assess lionfish availability across 10 coastal states. Compared to species diversity within the subfamily, the number of traded species was low and just two species were traded at moderate to high volume, including P. volitans and Dendrochirus zebra. At the retail level, fewer species are available to consumers. The trade in lionfishes is consolidated because most lionfishes originate from two Indo-Pacific countries and arrive through the port of Los Angeles. The volume and diversity of traded lionfishes presents some risk of introduction for lionfishes which are not established, and secondary introductions of the invasive P. volitans. In combination with rapid risk screening, this research can be applied to a proactive risk management framework to identify risky species prior to introduction and establishment.