CHARLOTTE HARBOR, Fla. (AP) _ Researchers are trying to determine the ecological impact of large numbers of an exotic fish species that have shown up in Charlotte Harbor recently.

Scientists this week were harvesting Mayan cichlids, an invasive species from Central America and Mexico, so they could examine the stomach contents. The fish are showing up in areas where they haven't been before and experts are trying to determine if they will pose any problems to the estuary.

``As often with science, while doing other studies, you get surprised, and these guys surprised us,'' said Aaron Adams of Mote Marine Laboratory. ``Finding Mayan cichlids out here is like throwing us a curve ball.

Experts are eager to determine if the cichlids might eat juvenile redfish, snook or other important recreational or commercial fish. Their populations might become so large that they compete with native fish for food and space.

Mayan cichlids are natives of southeastern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. They were first discovered in Florida 20 years ago in a remote area of northeastern Florida Bay and along Everglades National Park's Anhinga Trail.

Since then they've also popped up in Collier, Monroe, Okeechobee, Palm Beach, and Broward counties. However, Mote's find is the first in Charlotte Harbor and it is the farthest north that the fish have been sighted in any numbers.


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