A team of scientists from Oregon State University and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is studying a very foreign fish captured alive in a crab pot near Port Orford. It’s called a Striped Knifejaw that is native to Japan, as well as China and Korea. It’s even found off the waters of the Hawaiian Islands.
Did it come over associated with yet another wave of Japanese tsunami debris? Or maybe disgorged from the ballast tanks of an Asian freighter or simply dumped in the ocean by someone who bought it in a pet store and released it on a south Oregon beach?
Its appearance and survival certainly raises questions, according to OSU Invasive Species specialist, Dr. John Chapman.
“Some association with Japanese tsunami debris is a strong possibility, but we cannot rule out other options, such as the fish being carried over in ballast water of a ship or an aquarium fish being released locally,” Chapman said. “But finding a second Knifejaw nearly two years after the discovery of fish in a drifting Japanese boat certainly gets my attention.”
In March 2013, five Striped Knifejaws were found alive in a boat near Long Beach, Washington, that had drifted over from Japan. Four of the fish were euthanized, but one was taken to the Seaside Aquarium, where it is still alive and thriving.
OSU marine ecologist Jessica Miller examined the four euthanized Knifejaws, analyzing their ear bones for clues about where they came from.
“The young fish of these species are known to associate with debris drift, both natural and tsunami-caused,” she said. “Japanese tsunami marine debris continues to arrive on beaches in Oregon and Washington and some of that debris from Japan washed up on the southern Oregon coast earlier this month – so it is not inconceivable that the Port Orford fish was associated with Japanese marine debris,” Miller theorized.
She added that the species is also found over wide reaches of Asian oceans including the Hawaiian Islands of Kauai and Oahu making it native to a broader range than just Japan.
The fish is approximately 13 centimeters in length, and thus not a fully grown adult. It was caught in a crab pot between Port Orford and Cape Blanco in southern Oregon.
Steven Rumrill, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, is working with HMSC to transport the fish to a quarantine facility at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, where it will be under the care of OSU aquatic veterinarian Tim Miller-Morgan.
Rumrill said it’s important that the fish be held in quarantine to ensure that it is free from any pathogens or parasites that could pose a threat to our native fish.
Sam Chan, an OSU invasive species expert and vice-chair of the Oregon Invasive Species Council, has seen Striped Knifejaws in Japan and believes this particular fish may be 1 to 2 years old. Therefore, it is unlikely to have left Japan in the 2011 tsunami. But a boat could have been milling around Asian waters for the past 2-3 years and then picked up the fish and rode the currents over. The big question is – are there more of these?
Chan said Oregon Sea Grant will work with Oregon fishermen, crabbers and others to keep a lookout for additional Striped Knifejaws and other exotic species.
Dr. Chapman at HMSC has raised the possibility that long-held scientific assumptions about the impossibility of Asian aquatic life being able to reach North America on their own may be, in fact, quite wrong. He said there are a number of ways that invasive species can make their way to the Western Hemisphere. And since it is now widely known that tsunami-caused earthquakes are quite common on Asia’s eastern shores and North America’s western shores, that their related debris fields are more than capable of carrying invasive species of plant and animal life thousands of miles in both directions.
Oregonians who believe they have spotted marine debris on the beach or an invasive species are encouraged to report it on line at OregonInvasivesHotline.Org, or call 866-468-2337. Calls can also be made to Dr. John Chapman at OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center at 541-867-0235.
Here’s a video of the Striped Knifejaw fish swimming in an holding tank in Port Orford.