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."
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.