Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lionfish Derbies in the Florida Keys

Non-native lionfish invade a reef in Bahamas (Photo credit Tom DeMayo)
In an earlier blog I talked about lionfish and how some have been recently caught in the Indian River Lagoon (both Fort Pierce Inlet and Sebastian Inlet). Lionfish are a non-native, venomous fish of the scorpionfish family and considered to be extremely invasive. They are voracious eaters and feed upon many commercially and ecologically important species of native fish including grouper and snapper. They have also had a rapid increase in population especially in the Keys. They are frequently removed from the water when encountered by divers and researchers.  Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF)-coordinated lionfish derbies in the Bahamas have removed almost 2500 lionfish since 2009. Thousands more fish have been captured in more than 30 REEF-organized lionfish collection trips across the Caribbean.

NOAA's Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in partnership with REEF is hosting an inaugural series of lionfish derbies starting in September. Divers who remove lionfish from sanctuary waters will be eligible for more than $10,000 in cash and prizes. These two partners have been working with the Florida Keys dive community to remove invasive lionfish since early 2009. Divers will be given detailed briefings on lionfish collecting and handling procedures then they will be allowed to collect fish on the day of the tournament using handnets or spearfishing gear in areas of the sanctuary where fishing and spearfishing is allowed. The $100 registration fee for a 4-person team of divers or snorkelers provides participants with a pair of puncture resistant gloves and banquet tickets. Event banquets will feature a lionfish tasting for derby participants and guests. "Eating lionfish is a conservation activity," said Sean Morton, acting sanctuary superintendent. "We are its only known predator in the Atlantic and through dedicated diver-based removal efforts, and consumption of lionfish as a food source, we can control its establishment." NOAA has developed an "Eat Lionfish" campaign that brings together fishing communities, wholesalers, and chefs in an effort to increase awareness of this invader and enjoy a tasty meal.

For more information on the derbies and to register online, visit http://www.reef.org/lionfish. Dates and locations for the derbies are:
  • Sept 11th - Coconuts Restaurant, Key Largo
  • Oct 16th - Keys Fisheries Market and Marina, Marathon
  • Nov 13th - Hurricane Hold Marina, Key West
The Florida Keys lionfish derbies are sponsored in part by: Ocean Reef Conservation Association, Divers Direct, Spree Expeditions, Inc., Dive Key West, Inc., and Scuba-Do Dive Company.