A hundred or so divers gathered on Sept. 11 for the 1st Annual Florida Lionfish Derby Series at Coconuts Restaurant in Key Largo, Fla.
The cash prize fishing derby is the first of three planned lionfish derbies in the Keys and attracted 27 teams of divers. The teams competed for cash prizes to harvest the most, largest and smallest lionfish. The divers captured 534 lionfish in the first event that took place in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Lionfish, a native of the Western Pacific Ocean are an invasive species that have been introduced in the area by uninformed aquarists. They have no known predators in the area except man and are wreaking havoc on reef fish populations, especially juvenile populations of grouper and snapper. They are know for their venomous spines, but when properly cleaned their white meat is considered a delicacy. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the lionfish population in the U.S. inhabits the coast from South Carolina to Florida and its populations are expected to increase in coming years due to the lack of predation and the fact that they reproduce throughout year. To help reduce their population NOAA recently introduced its “Eat Lionfish” campaign to promote the species as a food fish.
The three derby series sponsored by Reef Environmental Education Foundation, an organization of divers and marine enthusiasts committed to ocean conservation, hopes to draw attention to the invasive species with the long-term goal of reducing their numbers and the hope of preserving indigenous species. For more information, visit www.reef.org.