Somewhere off the western coast of North America there are 10,000 cobia fish heading north with a vengeance. 

These rogue fish who escaped from an aquaculture farm in Ecuador this winter have the potential to gobble up native species like a school of Pacman or not. The chances are 50-50 say marine biologists at UC Santa Barbara. 

“This is the first time that Southern California waters potentially could have a large and voracious non-native species invade,” Milton Love, a research biologist with UC Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute told the school’s magazine The Current in February. 

Cobia is normally found in the Atlantic where it prefers temperate to tropical waters. But they have never existed in the eastern Pacific and few biologists fully understand what the potential danger could be. Love explained that it could be minimal or downright disastrous.

“A possible scenario is for these fish to become well-established and start chomping down on native species the way Pac-Man slurps down pac-dots. For instance, Southern California’s rock crab fishery could be affected if a lot of these animals show up and start eating crabs at an alarming rate.” 

Cobia, also known as black salmon, can reach six feet in length and weigh up to 100 pounds, making them little match for other species like yellowtail, bonita and kelp bass. And they may also carry disease. 

Recently the fish were spotted off the coast of Panama, some 600 miles from their original farm, meaning the fish can travel about 200 miles per month. It’s only a matter of time before these rogue fish reach California and become just another fish species among the state’s seasonal migrants. 

Photo credit: Dreamstime