Divers removed 312 invasive lionfish from Florida Keys waters during the final 2011 Florida Keys Lionfish Derby event last Saturday, Nov. 5. The latest results brought the total number of lionfish removed for the year during three Florida Keys lionfish roundups to 1,518 lionfish. Organized by Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), the Florida Keys Lionfish Derby series began in 2010 to raise awareness of the marine invader and engage the dive community in safe handling and collection. The three 2010 Florida Keys lionfish roundups removed 664 lionfish. On Saturday, in Key West, Fla., 15 teams of registered divers competed for $3,350 in cash and prizes in the categories of most, largest and smallest lionfish. Team “Bottle Buddies” of Key West netted $1,000 for most lionfish with their haul of 110 fish collected in the single day event, and took home $500 for top prize in the biggest lionfish category with a 13.5-inch fish. Team “Austin Assassins” hailing from Austin, Texas, took home $500 for the smallest lionfish at 3.14 inches. Some teams took prizes in multiple categories. Complete derby results will be available online at www.reef.org/lionfish/derbies/pastderbies. Dive teams traveled from as far as Chicago, Ill.; Austin, Texas; Sunapee, N.H.; and Vero Beach, Fla. to compete in Saturday’s derby. Event participants and attendees observed filleting demonstrations and enjoyed tastings of lionfish caught during the event. 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.
Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey collected tissue samples from lionfish caught at the derby to learn more about lionfish feeding ecology and impacts. Additionally researchers from Salisbury University and the University of Florida collected data on lionfish parasites and reproductive biology. The lower Florida Keys derby was sponsored by Dive Key West, Divers Direct, Florida Keys Ecoweek, Spree Expeditions, and The Weekly Newspapers. 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