Florida Non-Native Exotic Invasive Fish

Black Acara

Also called the two-spot cichlid, the black acara is a freshwater fish that is found in various canals and swamps. Considered an invasive species in Florida, it has been found from the Gulf of Mexico to areas as far north as Jacksonville, and it is an omnivorous tropical fish in the cichlid family.

Invasive Fish Species in Florida 

In Florida, as in many other states, there is a problem with invasive fish species wreaking
havoc on public health, the local environment, and even on the economy. Fish that are non
native species are simply fish who are not in their native range, such as exotic fish that have
been released from an aquarium or even a species from a nearby state that is starting to
take over. Sometimes, the fish are put there on purpose to attack other invaders but end up
making the problem much worse.

Photo credit : Brandon Palacio

Are All Non-Native Fish Invasive?

Just because a fish is non-native doesn’t mean they are invasive. For example, the Asian Grass Carp were brought in and placed in lakes and ponds around Florida to fight off invasive plant life. The Peacock Bass from Brazil was introduced in the 1980s and today is one of the state’s most popular game fish. In fact, they are even eaten these days but still haven’t managed to threaten the native fish population.

 

The list of Florida invasive fish is large, and the rules for catching them can vary from one type of fish to another. For the most part, invasive and non-native fish in Florida are allowed to be caught in any quantities at any time. Most of them, in fact, are not allowed to be released alive, which means you have to take them home with you or dispose of them another way.

Brown Hopolo

The brown hopolo is part of the catfish family and usually grows to around nine inches in length. The males are a little larger than the females and are not found outside of the reproductive period when they have curved pectoral spines. They make great aquarium fish and are extensively cultured commercially in certain parts of the world.

Black Chin Tilapia

The black chin tilapia can come in colors such as orange, light blue, and even a golden yellow. They grow from 7 to 11 inches in length and can have as many as 100 tiny teeth set up in three to six rows. Their body has markings on it such as spots and blotches, and the males tend to be larger than the females. The main purpose of this fish is for eating and for placing in various aquariums. 

Blue Tilapia

Blue tilapia have flaky, white meat and are grown commercially all over the world. They can cause big problems in south Florida, which is one of the reasons the peacock bass was introduced to the state. You are also allowed to catch as many of them as you like, and considering how delicious they are, this is something most people appreciate. 

Bullseye Snakehead

The bullseye snakehead is native to South Asia and is a large invasive fish species in Florida. It loves the canals in south Florida and one of the most interesting characteristics about this fish is that outside of Florida, it exists nowhere else in the entire United States. There is a large population of the Bullseye snakehead population found in Broward County in Coral Springs, Pompano Beach area. Snakeheads are opportunistic feeders taking an array of prey from lizards, frogs, insects, and fish.

Clown Knife Fish

The clown knife fish can also be called the spotted knife fish, and it is one of the world’s most invasive species. It has a long, knife-like body, a silvery gray color, and often black spots outlined in white that diminish as it gets older. These are nocturnal fish that are found in swamps, lakes, and river backwaters. They are also sold as exotic fish in many pet stores.

Photo credit : David Fernandez

Florida Oscar Fish

The Florida Oscar fish can be black with white and orange markings when it’s young or colors such as olive, blue-green, and mustard yellow when it’s an adult. All of them, however, have a thick mucous coat and an oval-shaped body. 

With a length of roughly 10 inches and a weight of 3/4 lb. on average, even the experts aren’t sure how long this fish lives. Their white, flaky meat is quite tasty, and if you find one that weighs 2 lbs. or more, it is considered quite large for this species. Some of them also have bright red or orange markings on their bodies.

Jaguar Guapote

The Jaguar guapote are found mostly in coastal canals in southeast Florida. The pattern of the fish includes broken lateral lines in mostly black and white, and it has splotches of blue and black on its body. The fish also has a protruding mouth and teeth, which gives it an instantly recognizable look.

Growing to about 16 inches in length with a weight of roughly 3 lbs., this fish is apparently very tasty and can be caught with artificial bait, live worms, and even smaller fish. They feed mostly on small fish and aquatic insects, but they can also eat worms, snails, and even lizards.

Photo credit : David Fernandez

Jewel Cichlid

Native to Africa, the jewel cichlid are sometimes brightly colored and are found mostly in lakes, rivers, creeks, and streams, as well as in lagoons and other areas with brackish water. They usually get 3 to 10 inches in length and consist of a total of 12 species.

Mayan Cichlid

The Mayan cichlid is known by the turquoise on its tail and a broken lateral line. The body varies greatly when it comes to both color and intensity, and it has bright red on the throat, chin, and breast. Found throughout most of south Florida, the fish is adaptable and can live in areas that include rivers, lakes, marshes, and canals.

This type of cichlid grows to a little more than 12 inches long and weighs approximately 1.5 lbs. It usually lives around seven years and has a diet that includes mostly wooly worms, small streamers, and popping bugs used by fly fishers. Their taste is mild and yummy, and they are a white, flaky fish that both looks good and tastes good.

Midas Cichlid

The most unique characteristic of the Midas cichlid is the colors, which range from dull gray to black and even white, red, or orange. In fact, it can be a brightly colored fish at times that is certain to catch people’s eye. They were first discovered in 1980 and are now very common in the Miami-Dade area, preferring canals with lots of shoreline crevices for them to hide from predators.

 

These fish usually get to about a foot long and can weigh more than 2.5 lbs. The males are larger than the females, and their diet consists mostly of foods such as snails, small fish, aquatic insects, and some plant and animal matter found near submerged rocks, logs, and so on.

Pike Killifish

The pike killifish is also called the pike topminnow, and it grows only to around eight inches in length. This is the only known member of this particular genus, and the fish has an elongated appearance and a flat back profile. The body can be an olive-brown color or a light-green iridescence design, and it has small black spots on its flank. The belly of the fish is usually a light yellow-white color.

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Sailfin Catfish

With a dark golden background, the sailfin catfish is often seen on the banks of canals and lakes. It grows to roughly 20 inches and 3 lbs., and even though the meat isn’t the tastiest meat, it can taste much better when it’s cooked “in the shell.” They are fairly difficult to clean and there is no bag or size limit for the fish.

Spotted Tilapia

True to its name, the spotted tilapia has large spots sprinkled across its body, and it is usually a light yellow to bronze color. The fish was first collected in 1974 and is frequently found in the canal system around the Miami-Dade area. They like canals, lakes, and ponds, though not as frequently in Miami-Dade as they were in the 1980s.

Getting to about 13 inches and a weight of 3 lbs., the fish feeds on a variety of foods including those at the bottom of the food chain. We know this because the stomachs of this type of fish typically is found with algae and sand in them. If you possess or transport live tilapia in Florida, you’ll need a special permit first (except for the blue tilapia).

Swamp Eel

Just like other types of eel, the swamp eel has a long body that tapers to a point and tiny eyes. They can be reddish-brown, light tan, pink, light orange, or even white, and sometimes more than one of these colors. Active at night, the fish is a little on the secretive side and is considered a rather sluggish fish.

They prefer stagnant waters and dense vegetation, and they can even live in water without oxygen since they breathe the air. The largest of these fish was more than 33 inches long and weighed 1.7 lbs., although this is likely not the average size. The fish itself has a mild taste and is considered a delicacy in its native habitat.

Walking Catfish

The walking catfish is elongated and scaleless, and it has a large mouth with an often dark-gray color. They are found most often in the Everglades area and canals near this area, and they were first reported in Broward County in 1967. They prefer areas that are shallow and with a lot of vegetation, and they eat a wide variety of foods, including plant materials, aquatic insects, small fishes, and so on like catfish bait.

They also grow to around a foot in length and up to roughly 3 lbs. Their maximum size, however, is 20 inches. In western societies, this fish is not typically eaten; however, they are prized in their natural habitat. You are also not allowed to transport or possess this fish in the state of Florida without the proper state and federal permits.

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