Invasive “Sea Squirts” May Benefit Flounder

Sea Squirt (tunicate), Photo: U.S. Geological Survey by Dan Blackwood

EAST BAY.RI: Invasive sea squirts are colonizing large areas of the Georges Bank sea bottom. And while their potential impact on fish—and the fishermen who catch them—is still unclear, researchers were surprised to learn that at least one species seems to benefit the sea squirts’ onslaught.

Scientists from the University of Rhode Island and Northeast Fisheries Science Center said last week that winter flounder appear to be finding more to eat since sea squirts began taking over.

They’re normally found close to shore, so the arrival of sea squirts at Georges Bank off New England startled and alarmed scientists who first found them there in 2002. Colonies of the soft-bodied “tunicates” spread across the bottom in rope-like mats that look like scrambled eggs. They reproduce fast and grow on any hard surface, including gravel, rock and animals. So far they have colonized roughly 90 square miles of northern Georges Bank.

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East Bay Rhode Island

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