Starting in May, divers will once again take to the waters of the Florida Keys in the second annual round of “lionfish derbies” hosted by Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF). The inaugural series of lionfish derbies held in 2010 resulted in the removal of more than 650 of the invaders from sanctuary waters.
This year, more than $10,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded to the divers who bring in the most lionfish, largest lionfish, and smallest lionfish during the sanctuary/REEF series of tournaments. Teams of four may register online at www.reef.org or pick up registration forms at participating tournament venues. The $120 registration fee provides each team with a pair of puncture resistant gloves or a capture bag — important protection from lionfish spines — and two tickets to the derby banquet.
2011 lionfish tournament dates and locations:
May 14 — Fiesta Key Resort, Long Key, FL
August 20 — Coconuts Restaurant, Key Largo, FL
November 5 — Hurricane Hole Marina and Restaurant, Key West, FL
More than 40 teams of divers participated in the 2010 series of tournaments, taking to the water to capture invasive lionfish within sanctuary waters. Divers participating in the tournaments received training from the sanctuary and REEF on safe handling and capture techniques of lionfish. Download video (162 Mb).
In addition to helping the Florida Keys ecosystem by removing lionfish, divers are helping scientists learn more about these marine invaders. Data collected from lionfish captured during the derbies may help researchers determine reproductive status, feeding habits, genetics, growth, and habitat preferences. All of this information can be applied to future lionfish management strategies. Download video (107 Mb).
Attendees of the lionfish derbies were invited to sample the fish, which is a mild, delicious white fish. NOAA has developed an "Eat Lionfish" campaign that brings together fishing communities, wholesalers, and chefs in an effort to broaden U.S. consumers' awareness of this delicious invader. Download video (158 Mb).
Avoid consuming lionfish from locations known to be affected by ciguatera toxins. Check with local and state authorities if in doubt. Learn more about ciguatera from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.