By Robin Snape
More than 1,000 alien fish species have invaded the Mediterranean via the Suez canal causing sweeping ecological changes.
Among them, poisonous species like lionfish and pufferfish have received attention for hindering fishing economies, causing injury, or damaging fishing gear, while the rabbitfish and Indian goatfish have been beneficial, with new fisheries established for them.
One new species was added to the list from Cyprus: the Striped Eel Catfish (Plotosus lineatus).
Although it has been recorded in the Mediterranean since 2002, and is known to have invaded Turkish waters, its presence in Cypriot waters was confirmed only last year. A fisherman collaborating with the Cyprus Bycatch Project caught it in his nets for the first time in the Rizokarpaso region.
The Striped Eel Catfish has dangerous venom glands attached to its dorsal and pectoral fins. Stings can be very painful and can persist for a long time, possibly requiring medical treatment. Most cases of stinging have been during handling of fish by fishermen or through contact with fish stranded on the coast.
We therefore advise anyone encountering the species not to touch it directly if they can avoid it, and to report all cases to the authorities.
Unfortunately, there are serious concerns that if this species becomes widespread, it will compete with native species and threaten fish stocks and biodiversity, as has been the case with other invasions.
The best preventative action against such invasions is through fisheries management. If we ensure that native fish stocks are managed at sustainable levels and provide marine protected areas, native species populations can be restored. Then coastal ecosystems and fisheries may be more resilient to colonisation of these opportunistic alien invasives.
More effort is needed from national and international authorities who depend on trade through the Suez canal, to ensure that preventative measures are taken to reduce the flow of alien species, since they are having a crippling effect on many coastal communities and damaging the Mediterranean’s unique biodiversity.
The publication entitled “New Alien Mediterranean Biodiversity Records” published in the Journal Mediterranean Marine Science is co-authored by University of Kyrenia lecturer professor Fatih Hüseyinoğlu and SPOT’s Dr Damla Beton and can be found here: https://ejournals.epublishing.ekt.gr/index.php/hcmr-med-mar-sc/article/view/31228/23947
For more information on SPOT’s work with alien invasives see www.cyprusturtles.org.