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Cobia, Rachycentron canadum. (Photo: NOAA)

Scientists warn on arrival of voracious fish to Panama coast

Click on the flag for more information about Panama PANAMA
Monday, February 15, 2016, 23:50 (GMT + 9)

Scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) warn of the danger posed by the arrival of cobia (Rachycentron canadum) to the Panamanian Pacific, because it is a voracious invasive species.

The warning arises from reports that indicate the rapid spread of this fish on the Pacific coast of Colombia and Panama, after last year a large number of juveniles escaped from cages installed by Ecuador at sea last August.

Scientists are worried because cobia is a carnivore voracious fish, which can disrupt ecosystems and cause far-reaching impacts on fisheries and marine ecology in the eastern Pacific.

"The havoc caused by invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois sp.) throughout the Caribbean provides a compelling lesson about the strong adverse effects that alien marine fish can have on naïve ecosystems," says Ross Robertson, a scientist at STRI.

“The extraordinary success of the lionfish in the Caribbean is due in large part to its being a type of predator with no near relatives or ecological analogs among the Caribbean fish fauna," he added. "As cobia is the only species in its family, which is most closely related to remoras or shark-suckers, it too represents an unusual type of predator for the tropical East Pacific, which only increases both the degree of uncertainty about its effects and the potential for major disruption of the area's ecosystems.”

Cobia reaches a maximum length of two meters and can weigh up to 78 kilograms. It is streamlined in shape with nearly smooth skin, brown above and white below, with a darker brown stripe on the side.

Cobia feeds on crustaceans, squid and other fish, according to researchers.

Scientists stress that fishermen, marine resources agencies and marine ecologists should be aware that cobia is now present in the eastern Pacific, and of the possible harmful effects they may produce.

While it is not yet certain that they will become established, their broad environmental tolerance and rapid growth make this a possibility.

For this reason, the STRI emphasizes that all cobia catches or sightings (with photographs) in Pacific waters should be reported to Ross Robertson.

At present, cobia is farmed in Taiwan, Vietnam, China, Philippines, Indonesia, Belize, Brazil and the Caribbean coast of Panama.


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