By Emily Stokes | REEF Lionfish Program Assistant
At the break of dawn on September 10th, 42 dedicated lionfish hunters braved unfavorable weather conditions to compete in the Seventh Annual Upper Keys Lionfish Derby. Vying for more than $3,500 in cash prizes, 11 teams brought in 323 lionfish during the single day event. Team Rob’s Angels took 1st place for most lionfish with 113 lionfish. Team Half Circle finished 2nd with 103 lionfish and Team Key Dives placed 3rd with 47 fish.
Awards were also given for 1st through 3rd place for the largest and smallest lionfish caught. Team Rob’s Angels brought in the largest fish at 414 mm which beat out the second place team Half Circle by ten millimeters. Half Circle took top honors for smallest lionfish with a miniscule 48mm specimen, almost half the size of the second place smallest lionfish (90mm, Team Rob’s Angels.)
Teams of divers searched local waters with spears and hand nets, removing as many invasive lionfish as they could find. 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 the public with a chance to taste this new delicacy.
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 are showing promise in reducing local lionfish populations and sizes.
The Upper Keys Lionfish Derby would not have been possible without the host, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and our sponsors including Ocean Reef Conservation Commission, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the Florida Park Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, ZooKeeper and Diver’s Direct.
For complete derby results and information on additional lionfish derbies throughout the region, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies
The Upper Keys Lionfish Derby was funded in part by a grant awarded from Mote Marine Laboratory’s Protect Our Reefs Grants Program, which is funded by proceeds from the sale of the Protect Our Reefs specialty license plate. To learn more, visit www.mote.org//4reef.