New Invasive Predator is Taking Over Rivers

arapaima-florida-fish-invasive

Florida is already in a battle with dangerous and invasive species like the Burmese python, green iguana and lionfish and now there’s a new predator in the state called the arapaima. It is a fish that can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh hundreds of pounds.

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Invasive fish species invading Florida

A dead one recently washed ashore in Cape Coral’s Jaycee Park along the Caloosahatchee River, which runs from Lake Okeechobee west to the Gulf of Mexico.

The arapaima is native to the Amazon River in South America and is one of the world’s largest predatory fish. Its scales are said to be as impenetrable as armor. And it’s ugly, at least to most people.

“I think it’s kind of cool,” said Captain Josh Constantine, who has been fishing the waters near the Caloosahatchee River for more than 20 years, and has been a guide for his business, Caloosahatchee Cowboys Charters, for more than a decade.

Constantine said the arapaima might be the closest thing to a tarpon, which is a big, athletic fish native to Florida’s waters and a popular species for game fishermen. Like tarpon, Arapaima are capable of jumping out of the water for food and their prey include small mammals, lizards, birds and other fish.

But Constantine is also aware of the reality of the arapaima’s appearance in Florida, which was confirmed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“I can’t imagine it’s good for our ecosystem,” he said.

Deep South swamps home to some exotic wild life

And he’s right. The arapaima, because of its varied and voracious appetite, is a threat to native Florida wildlife. It is also capable of producing hundreds of thousands of eggs during its lifetime. But that apparently hasn’t happened here.

“There is no evidence that arapaima have reproduced in the wild in Florida,” the FWC said in an email.

John Cassani, head of Calusa Waterkeeper, a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting waterways in the region, agreed, writing in an email that it “would seem unlikely as sightings are rare and this one may be unique to the Caloosahatchee River.”

The FWC said the arapaima habitats are limited by their sensitivity to cool water — they can even die in water that’s 60 degrees or colder. However, they could survive in the waters of extreme southeast Florida.

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