Taking a Bite Out of Lionfish: 13th Annual REEF Derby

Conservation Partners - REEF Take a Bite
Taking a Bite Out of Lionfish: 13th Annual REEF Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival Hauls in 919 Invasive Lionfish

KEY LARGO, FLA. – Last week, 18 teams of scuba divers took to the water and collected 919 invasive lionfish during the 2022 Florida Keys Lionfish taking a bite Derby & Festival, hosted by Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF). Teams fished from sunrise to sunset on Friday, Sept. 9 and Saturday, Sept. 10. The event concluded on Sunday, Sept. 11 at Postcard Inn Resort & Marina in Islamorada, with an outdoor festival featuring lionfish tastings, cooking and dissection demos, games, interactive booths, and live music.

More than $6,500 in cash and prizes were awarded to teams who brought in the most, largest, and smallest lionfish. The “Most Lionfish” category included the competitive Apex Predators division and the Reef Defenders division for casual lionfish hunters. Team Forever Young led the Apex Predators with 400 lionfish. Team Massai Warriors finished second with 116 lionfish, and team ZooKeeper placed third with 115 lionfish. Fourth and fifth place went to team Wynwood Dive Crew with 46 lionfish, and team The Hunters with 21 lionfish. In the Reef Defenders division, team Men of Science won first place with 74 lionfish. Team Squid Ink brought in 55 lionfish for second place, team Will 2 Spear won third place with 46 lionfish, and Barnacles placed fourth with 19 lionfish.

Competition was close in the largest and smallest lionfish categories. Team Squid Ink won first place in the “Largest Lionfish” category with a 401 mm fish, nearly 16 inches long. Team Forever Young’s second place fish measured 395 mm, and team ZooKeeper won third place with a 391 mm fish. The smallest fish of the derby was 82 mm (just over three inches!) harvested by team Men of Science. Team Barnacles won second place with a 92 mm fish, and team Forever Young brought in a 95 mm fish to win third place. Team Men of Science also caught an 82 mm live lionfish, to be displayed in an educational exhibit at the REEF Campus. Full results from the 2022 derby, as well as past REEF derbies, are posted online at www.REEF.org/past-derby-results.

Native to the Indo-Pacific, lionfish are an invasive species in the Tropical Western Atlantic, and are negatively impacting native marine life, including important fisheries like grouper and snapper. REEF Lionfish Derbies educate the public about invasive species, gather data about lionfish populations, and promote a consumer market for lionfish. Regular removals events have been found to significantly reduce lionfish populations on a local scale.

“Everyone can play a role in this conservation effort, whether it’s by removing or eating invasive lionfish, or helping to spread awareness about the issue. We are so thankful to all of the derby teams, volunteers, and festival attendees who helped make the Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival a success,” said Alli Candelmo, Ph.D., REEF Conservation Science Manager.

The 2022 Florida Keys Lionfish Taking a bite Derby & Festival was made possible thanks to the following supporters: Ocean Reef Conservation Association, Triad Foundation, Ocean Conservancy, Postcard Inn Resort & Marina, Sharkey’s Sharkbite Grill, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Forever Young Spearfishing, Baker’s Cay Resort, ZooKeeper, Mesara Foundation. Activities occurred within NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary under permit.

REEF will host the Taking a bite 14th annual Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival on Sept. 7-10, 2023. Fishing will take place Sept. 8-9, and the festival will be on Sunday, Sept. 10 at Postcard Inn Resort and Marina. For more information about REEF Lionfish Derbies, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish-derbies.

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