Coral Reef NOAA
May 25, 2016  

Derby Removes Over 500 Invasive Lionfish From Florida Keys

Two members of Team 'Strategery' pose next to the cooler containing their winning catch of 158 lionfish in the 2011 Long Key Lionfish Derby
Team "Strategery" brought in the winning haul of 158 lionfish in this single day event at Long Key. They scouted dive sites for two days prior to the derby. Photo credit: Celia Hitchins

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Lionfish are native to the western and central Pacific Ocean, but have established themselves from North Carolina to South America in recent years.  They have no known predators in this region and consume commercially and ecologically important fish species.  The most effective method of battling this invasive species currently is removal.  The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Reef Environmental Education Foundation have teamed up for the second year in a row to coordinate Lionfish Derbies in the Florida Keys to enable mass removal of these invasive fish in a fun and competitive format. 

"Anyone who appreciates the diversity of the Keys coral reef should be concerned about these invasive fish," said Sean Morton, sanctuary superintendent. "Divers have been actively engaged in lionfish removal in the Keys since 2009 and these tournaments are a way to reward them for their dedication to the reef."

diver from Team 'Full Circle' posing with winning 14 inch lionfish.  Inset: close up of winning 2.5 inch lionfish in the hand of a member of Team 'Key Lime Good Time'.
First place winner for largest lionfish at the Long Key derby goes to Team "Full Circle." with their 14" lionfish. Inset: First place winner in the smallest lionfish category at the Long Key derby was Team "Key Lime Good Time." This little specimen is barely 2.5 inches in length. Photo credits: Celia Hitchins



The first derby of the Second Annual Florida Keys Lionfish Derby Series was held on May 14 in Long Key, Florida.  Teams of divers successfully removed 531 invasive lionfish while competing for $3,350 in cash and prizes for the most, largest, and smallest lionfish collected.  Team "Strategery" of Key Largo netted $1,000 for most lionfish with their haul of 158 fish collected in the single day event. Team "Full Circle," Islamorada, won $500 for largest lionfish with a 14-inch fish, while Team "Key Lime Good Time" of Miami took home $500 for the smallest lionfish at 2 1/2 inches. Many teams took prizes in multiple categories. Click here for complete derby results.

Researchers from the US Geological Survey collected tissue samples from lionfish caught at the derby to learn more about lionfish genetics, growth and impacts to native marine life. "Fortunately for conservationists and resources managers, these fish also happen to taste great," said Lad Akins, special projects director for REEF. "Restaurants in the Keys have begun to serve local Keys lionfish and patrons can feel good that lionfish consumption benefits the environment." Derby attendees sampled cooked lionfish appetizers and viewed fillet demonstrations. The Long Key derby was sponsored by the City of Layton and Divers Direct.

Additional 2011 Derby Info

Additional Dates: August 20, Key Largo, November 5, Key West
Registration: Click here to register teams of up to four divers.
Additional Photos: Click here, search 'lionfish' under 'Florida Keys'.