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Lionfish: Small Fish, Big Bully

Scientists are tracking an exotic invader - a small fish that has become one of the biggest bullies in the Atlantic Ocean.

They're called lionfish, and they're hard to miss with bright stripes, big showy fins and 13 sharp spines that scream stay away. They're loaded with a neurotoxin that delivers a powerful sting. No fish will come near them, let alone eat them.

Stephanie Green of Simon Fraser University says they eat pretty much anything that fits into their mouths.

Lionfish are native to the Asian Pacific, and they're a favorite of fish collectors in the U.S. You can buy them online for $20 each.

When Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992, it washed six lionfish out of an aquarium and into the open water. Since then, they've spread like a virus. Researchers say there could be millions now. If left unchecked scientists fear the invaders may eat through every last inch of the Atlantic coast.

"It's impossible to survey all that habitat and to physically remove all those fish. So this invasion is irreversible," said James Morris of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Read NOAA's page on lionfish

Read REEF lionfish action page

Carribian Fishery Management Council lionfish page

Blog: To Catch a Lionfish

Scientists are just beginning to tag and track lionfish, to learn how they spread. The know this much - one female can produce 30,000 eggs a week. Those eggs can travel for miles.

"Lionfish that are spawned in the Bahamas or in the Caribbean can easily make it up the coast of the U.S.," said Morris.

That's why a small flotilla of American volunteers ventured into open waters this summer, to join their Bahamian friends in an experiment: a lionfish rodeo.

The boat that rounded up and killed the most lionfish in a day would win $2,000 dollars cash.

Tito Baldwin said it was easy, and speared more than 50 lionfish.

In all, over 1,400 lionfish were collected.

And they proved a point: if you cut away the spines and add a little butter, you can find a place for lionfish here on the menu.

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