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Invasive Fish in Turkish Waters: What We Need to Know

By Alejandra Pousa, 23/07/21


Climate change has brought about an alarming time of shift in the biota of coastal ecosystems with the tropicalization of the Mediterranean.

Temperatures and high salinity levels used to act like a barrier between the Red Sea, the tropical Atlantic waters, and the Mediterranean. Whether because of accidental larval dispersal when emptying boat ballast tanks or active swimming, the fact remains that around 1,000 alien species have been introduced, and, once established, their spread can not be fully barred.

Many of the newcomers are not only piscivores or molluscivores, with the consequent economic impact on native species, but also a number of them merit a word of warning for anglers and swimmers.

Fugu, Pufferfish or Balon Balığı (Lagocephalus Sceleratus)

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This is an Indo-Pacific fish, one of the most invasive, and therefore considered a pest.

Owner of a potent bite and a more potent poison, namely tetrodotoxin, fatal to humans when ingested. It does not inject the toxin by biting or through its spines but should be handled with gloves since the skin might have traces of the poison.

Never attempt to clean it or remove the entrails (most of the tetrodotoxin is in the liver and gut) and least of all, eat it: cooking heat does not guarantee the denaturation of the poisonous protein.

Toxicity symptoms: Generally occur within 10-45 minutes of ingestion and begin with numbness and tingling around the mouth, salivation, nausea, and vomiting. Seek medical treatment as soon as possible.

Lion fish, Aslan Balığı, Zebra fish (Pteros Miles)

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Another visitor from the Indo Pacific was first spotted in 2012 in Lebanese waters and is here to stay.

It has a high breeding rate (spawns every 4 days!) and a voracious appetite. On top of that, it does not seem to have many natural predators in our waters.

Though not poisonous, it poses a hazard to fishermen and divers because of its spines (back, sides and underside) through which it delivers the venom. So consuming lionfish meat is safe provided you avoid getting stung when fishing or cleaning it.

If stung: Gently remove the spine or pieces of it; clean the area with soap and water or some antiseptic. Apply heat (not more than 40 C to avoid burns) with a hot pack. Get medical attention as soon as possible since the pain is extreme, there is a risk of infection, and more importantly, of allergic reaction.

Stone Fish, Taş Balığı (Synanceia Verrucosa)

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Originally an inhabitant of the Red Sea, it has been seen in Syria and in Iskenderun (2019).

They lie half-buried among stones and corals or covered in mud or sand as part of their predatory strategy. They are difficult to distinguish from their surroundings. The most common interaction with humans is our accidentally stepping on them: they are armed with 13 dorsal spines which are part of their defense mechanism.

Emergency medical attention is required and though hot water can be applied to interfere with the action of the venom, and thus relieve the pain, as well as cleaning and disinfecting the wound, applying antivenom is required.

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