A spear fisherman shot a grouper native to Indo-Pacific waters last month south of Pacific Reef Light off North Key Largo, Fla. The fish, a humpback or panther grouper (Cromileptes altivelis) weighed 15-pounds and measured 27 inches in length, reports the Miami Herald. According to the report, divers Greg Caterino and Wayne Grammes were investigating a ledge at 95 feet when they spotted what was thought to be black grouper. After spearing the fish, they realized it was a fish not native to the waters off Florida. Grammes told the paper that spearing the fish was the equivalent to finding a zebra in North America.
The fish is classified as vulnerable in its native range by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). A carnivore like the invasive lionfish that has settled off Florida’s Atlantic coast, there is not a lot that is known about their population numbers off the coast of Florida, although there have been several reported sightings of the species since the 1980s.
According to the report, the humpback grouper does resemble the native marbled grouper (Dermatolepis inermis), a fish that is classified as near threatened by the IUCN. Akins said if divers see a humpback grouper, they are advised to notify REEF instead of harvesting it due to its similar look to that of the marbled grouper.
“We’ve seen the successful marine invasion of lionfish,” Reef Environmental Education Foundation Project Director Lad Akins said in the report. “We certainly do not want to see it happen again with another Pacific species.” Akins said that the juveniles are a popular aquarium fish and Caterino’s fish was likely a released fish. Cromileptes altivelis grows quite fast and, like the lionfish, will eat virtually any fish that it can fit in its mouth.