Early on the morning of March 31st, 49 lionfish hunters descended on the reefs of the Florida Keys to compete in the Sixth Annual REEF Winter Lionfish Derby. Divers raced against the clock to bring in the most, smallest, and largest lionfish to win over $2800 in cash and prizes. At the end of the day, divers brought in a total of 414 lionfish during the single day event.
Team Forever Young took first place for most lionfish with 130 lionfish. Team Islamorada Dive Center finished second with 96 lionfish and Team Masai Warriors placed third with 83 fish. Team Proweb/ZooKeeper took first place in the largest lionfish category with a 440 millimeter lionfish, which is just over 17 inches long.
The event also served to educate the public about invasive species issues, to gather important scientific information on lionfish populations and to promote a consumer market by providing free samples of fresh lionfish ceviche.
Lionfish, native to the Indo‐Pacific region, are an invasive species in the Tropical Western Atlantic and are causing significant negative impacts to native marine life throughout the region. According to Dr. Stephanie Green, Oregon State University researcher, some sites in the Bahamas have seen 65‐95% declines in native fish in a two‐year period. Impacts to valuable food fish like grouper and snapper could cause damage to the economy and ecology of countries in the invaded range. Thankfully, regular removals and removal events such as derbies have been found to significantly reduce lionfish populations at the local scale.
The Winter Lionfish Derby would not have been possible without it’s host, Sharkey’s Pub & Galley and our sponsors including Whole Foods Market, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, The Ocean Reef Conservation Association, the Florida Park Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Tortuga Music Fest, ZooKeeper, and Divers Direct.
Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) is a non‐profit organization founded in 1990 that seeks to conserve marine ecosystems by educating, enlisting, and enabling divers and marine enthusiasts to become active ocean stewards and citizen scientists. REEF membership is free and totals more than 60,000 individuals worldwide, who protect marine life through education, service, and research.