May 6, 2016


Cobia invasion of California feared




Cobia that escaped from an aquaculture farm off the coast of Ecuador are heading northward and may reach Southern California, which could disturb biodiversity, a marine biologist from the University of California Santa Barbara said.


According to Milton Love, chances are 50-50 that these escapees will reproduce and make their way up to California. "The idea is intellectually interesting and vaguely horrifying at the same time," he said, according to a UC Santa Barbara press release. "The disturbance of biodiversity could be a major issue".


Several months ago, tens of thousands of cobia, a species of fish farmed as a high-quality food source, escaped from an aquaculture facility off the coast of Ecuador. Almost mature, the fish are making their way north at the rate of about 200 miles per month and already have been sighted near the Panamanian coast, 600 miles from their watery caged home.


"This is the first time that Southern California waters potentially could have a large and voracious non-native species invade," said Love, author of "Certainly More Than You Want to Know about the Fishes of the Pacific Coast" and other ichthyological tomes.


"What effect that will have on the native fishes, no one knows," he added. "It might not have any observable effects or it might have considerable ones. A possible scenario is for these fish to become well-established and start chomping down on native species the way Pac-Man slurps down pac-dots. For instance, Southern California's rock crab fishery could be affected if a lot of these animals show up and start eating crabs at an alarming rate".


According to Love, if cobia reach Southern California, they will likely favor drifting kelp mats, oil platforms, or piers.


"You might expect to see cobia as summer migrants like yellowtail," he said. "They seem to be able to compete well with other fish in the vicinity and are generalists as far as what they feed on. Here, they would be in competition with yellowtail, bonito, or even with reef fishes like kelp bass."


Love asked both recreational and commercial anglers from Baja California to Point Conception to let him know if they happen to catch cobia. The dimensions of the fish, its weight and the longitude and latitude of where the fish was caught could help scientists chart the species' progress. Information and photos can be sent to

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