Divers successfully removed 531 invasive lionfish from Florida Keys waters on May 14, during the first event of the Second Annual Florida Keys Lionfish Derby Series in Long Key, Fla., organized by Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF).
Ten teams of divers competed for $3,350 in cash and prizes in the categories of most, largest and smallest lionfish in the first of three lionfish derbies planned for 2011, according to REEF. Team “Strategery” of Key Largo netted $1,000 for most lionfish with their haul of 158 fish collected in the single day event. They scouted sites for two days prior, and their strategy paid off. Team “Full Circle” of 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 2-½ inches.
Last November in Key West during a Derby, the largest lionfish was about a foot long compared to the second largest which was 10-and-a-half inches long caught at the first Lionfish Derby in September in Key Largo. The bad news is the mere increase in size of the lionfish caught May 14 indicates the lionfish are thriving in Keys waters, which is a detriment to native marine species.
Many teams took prizes in multiple categories in Long Key. For complete derby results, visit www.reef.org/lionfish/derbies.
Researchers from the U.S. Geological Society collected tissue samples from lionfish caught at the derby to learn more about lionfish genetics, growth and impacts to native marine life. Derby attendees sampled cooked lionfish appetizers and viewed fillet demonstrations. The Long Key derby was sponsored by the City of Layton and Divers Direct.
Growing populations of lionfish off the southeast U.S. and Caribbean are impacting native reef fish communities and could hamper stock rebuilding efforts. Lionfish have no known predators and consume commercially and ecologically important fish species.
The Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) is a 501 c (3) marine conservation organization dedicated to protecting and preserving marine environments. REEF has been leading lionfish research, education and control efforts throughout the invaded region. For more information visit www.REEF.org. The remaining 2011 lionfish derbies are scheduled August 20 and Nov. 5 in Key Largo and Key West respectively. Teams of up to four divers may register at www.reef.org/lionfish/derbies.
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of critical marine habitat, including coral reef, hard bottom, sea grass meadows, mangrove communities and sand flats. NOAA and the state of Florida manage the sanctuary. Visit us online at www.floridakeys.noaa.gov or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/floridakeysnoaagov.