- There are various theories as to how LionFish were introduced into non-native waters. One popular school of thought believed that ballast water of large ocean going vessels was responsible for the LionFish having been transported from their natural waters.
- The most widely accepted theory is that tropical fish lovers purchase the beautiful and colorful LionFish and add them to their salt water aquarium. The voracious LionFish eat hundreds of dollars of tropical fish in the tank. The fish loving tank aquarium owner releases the fish to the wild rather than destroy it and there it is… introduction of an invasive species.
- The first LionFish was reported in South Florida waters in 1985 with many additional sightings occurring until they were documented as established in the early 2000s.
- Another school of thought, which is the most popular, argued that the species may owe its presence in non-native waters to the deliberate or accidental release of captive specimens and, as the LionFish increased in popularity as an aquarium fish this is not an unreasonable assumption.
This argument is supported by a paper published in 1995 (Courtenay Jr 1995) which indicated that there was an accidental release of six individual LionFish in 1992 as a result of the Hurricane Andrew-related destruction of a large private aquarium located on a porch at the edge of Biscayne Bay, Florida. These fish were observed alive in the adjacent habitat several days later.
The above initial conclusion has recently been amended and as a result of further research, it is now believed that there were at least 11 females involved in the original foundling population released from the aquarium in question.Note : This theory varied with the first sight South Florida 1985 before Hurricane Andrew (1992)
- LionFish have been documented off Palm Beach, Boca Raton, and Miami, Florida beginning in 1992.
- In 2001 a single adult individual was captured off Georgia and two juveniles off Long Island, New York. Since then, there have been further collections and observations of live Lionfi sh occurring in natural habitats off Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, New Jersey, and New York.
- In April 2001, a Lionfi sh was confi scated from an Agricultural Exhibition in Bermuda and in October 2001, divers provided photo documentation of another Lionfi sh off the south shore of Bermuda. Since 2001, Lionfi sh have been sighted at numerous locations around Bermuda.
- In 2004, a Lionfi sh was seen in an area east of New Providence Island in the Bahamas. In 2005, the species was reported from 16 different locations in the Bahamas around Andros Island, Eleuthera Island, Great Abaco Island, Little San Salvador and New Providence Island. Since 2005, Lionfi sh have spread throughout the Bahamian Islands.
- In the second half of 2007, LionFish spread to Cuba and the Turks and Caicos. In May 2008 a Lionfi sh was photographed in the National Submarine Park of Monte Cristi in the Dominican Republic. In early 2008, a juvenile LionFish was caught in a marine park off Little Cayman in the Cayman Islands and there have been several reports of sightings in Jamaica.
- In June 2008, both juvenile and adult LionFish were photographed on two dive sites on the north coast of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands and in July 2008 a LionFish was photographed in Haiti. The first confirmed report of LionFish in Puerto Rico was received in November, 2008. In December 2008, a LionFish was photographed on a reef in Belize and another near Sea Manta City just south of Isla de Providencia in the Seafl ower Biosphere Reserve, an atoll belonging to Colombia.
- In January 2009 a specimen was photographed off the island of Cozumel, Mexico at Palancar Gardens Reef. And a LionFish was collected on a reef just off Key Largo, Florida and a second specimen was collected in March; these are the first documented LionFish in the Florida Keys.
- In May 2009 LionFish were spotted in Panama and Honduras and in September 2009 the first reported sighting in Aruba was made. By December 2009 sightings of LionFish on the Pachareta Reef, north of the Yucatan Peninsula were made.
Regardless of the actual method of introduction, it is clear that the LionFish is now established along the East Coast of the United States, the British West Indies and a large portion of the Caribbean, as evidenced by its distribution and the presence of juveniles.
It has also been indicated that, based upon how quickly the Lionfi sh established itself along the East Coast of the US and the Bahamas, it is highly likely that within a few years
or less the Lionfi sh will have established itself along the southern edges of Central America (Nicaragua and Costa Rica), the Yucatan Peninsula and the Gulf of Mexico.