Lionfish Derbies



















A lionfish derby is a single day competition to collect and remove as many lionfish as possible. Teams collect lionfish by netting or spearing while SCUBA diving, free diving, or snorkeling. Teams begin competing at sunrise and are required to bring their catch to the scoring station by 5:00 pm. Each fish is measured, and prizes are awarded for teams catching the most, biggest, and smallest lionfish. The public is invited to watch scoring, taste free lionfish samples, watch filleting and dissection demonstrations, and ask questions about lionfish.

The evening before the derby, participants attend a mandatory Captain's Meeting. This presentation includes lionfish biology, ecology, impacts, collecting and handling tools and techniques, and derby rules.



Increase Education and Awareness
Although invasive lionfish are widely dispersed throughout the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico, a large portion of the general public still does not know about the problem. In addition, there are many myths and much misinformation regarding the biology and ecology of lionfish. Lionfish derbies serve to educate participants and the public and raise awareness of the problem. Significant local, national, and international media coverage of derby events has helped facilitate education to those not geographically connected to the invaded range.

Remove Significant Numbers of Lionfish
Ongoing research studies indicate that single day removal events can be highly effective in lowering the local lionfish population. For example, in the first ever lionfish derby in 2009, participants removed 1,408 lionfish from Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas. Listed below are the total number of lionfish removed from REEF derbies for the past four years. Because lionfish have no controlling predators in the invaded range, diver removals are one of the few effective means of reducing the lionfish population at present.

1,408 lionfish removed in 2009
1,578 lionfish removed in 2010
3,542 lionfish removed in 2011
2,694 lionfish removed in 2012
2,951 lionfish removed in 2013
2,820 lionfish removed in 2014
1,141 lionfish removed in 2015
2,426 lionfish removed in 2016
2,532 lionfish removed in 2017
21,092 lionfish removed in all REEF Derbies

Train Divers, Encourage Ongoing Removals
The captain’s meeting at the derby serves to train divers how to properly collect and handle venomous lionfish. Information on where to find lionfish, what tools and techniques are available and how to safely and effectively use them, increases both success and safety of participants. 

Provide Samples for Research
Each lionfish captured during derbies becomes a specimen for scientific research. Many different pieces of data are gathered during derbies such as length, weight, stomach contents, stage of sexual maturity, otoliths, and tissue samples. Collecting data on local lionfish populations year after year tells scientists how the population is changing over time. It is incredibly difficult for scientists to find enough time, funding, and resources to acquire thousands of samples. Derbies make high sample sizes a reality.

Help Develop Markets
After the lionfish are brought in and scored, volunteers fillet and cook the lionfish, and the public is invited to try free tastings. This is the first time many spectators have tasted lionfish or learned how to safely handle and fillet lionfish. These tastings give the public a chance to see how delicious lionfish are and encourage the consumption of lionfish in local restaurants. Derbies also draw media attention to the Atlantic lionfish invasion and help promote development of the commercial lionfish market.


REEF is currently looking for corporate sponsors for the 2017 Lionfish Derby Series. If you would like to get involved by helping fund derby prizes, administrative costs, and derby research projects, please contact Ashley Yarbrough, REEF's Lionfish Derby Program Coordinator, at or (305)852-0030.

Want to host your own lionfish derby but need some help? Check out our new REEF Sanctioned Derby program here to find out how!



2017 Palm Beach County Lionfsih Derby - 220 lionfish removed!

2017 Upper Keys Lionfish Derby - 373 lionfish removed!

2017 Fort Lauderdale Lionfish Derby - 440 lionfish removed!
2017 Sarasota Lionfish Derby - 1,079 lionfish removed!
2017 Winter Lionfish Derby - 420 lionfish removed!

2016 Upper Keys Lionfish Derby - 323 lionfish removed!

2016 Palm Beach County Lionfish Derby - 337 lionfish removed!

2016 Fort Lauderdale Lionfish Derby - 1250 lionfish removed!

2016 Sarasota Lionfish Derby - 429 lionfish removed!

2016 Winter Lionfish Derby - 87 lionfish removed!

2015 Upper Keys Lionfish Derby - 488 lionfish removed!
2015 Palm Beach County Lionfish Derby - 236 lionfish removed! 
2015 Teeples Memorial Fort Lauderdale Lionfish Derby - 318 lionfish removed!
2015 REEF Winter Lionfish Derby - 99 lionfish removed!
Click here to see the full list of winners and participants.

2014 Key Largo Lionfish Derby - 573 lionfish removed!
Click here to see the full list of winners and participants.
2014 Palm Beach County Lionfish Derby - 639 lionfish removed!
Click here to see the full list of winners and participants.

2014 Teeples Memorial Fort Lauderdale Lionfish Derby - 557 lionfish removed!
Click here to see the full list of winners and participants.

2014 Green Turtle Cay Lionfish Derby - 908 lionfish removed!
Click here to see the full list of winners and participants.

2014 Key Largo Winter Lionfish Derby - 143 lionfish removed!
Click here to see the full list of winners and participants.

***Click here for complete derby results and list of winners from 2009-2015 derbies. For photos from past lionfish derbies, check out our photo albums on the REEF Invasive Lionfish Facebook Page. ***


Sun Sentinel - July 19th, 2018: 509 Lionfish Down, Millions to Go

ABC WWSB - Suncoast, July 9th, 2017: Scuba Divers Compete at the Fourth Annual Sarasota Lionfish Derby, July 9th, 2017: Lionfish Derby Spearheads Invasive Species

Miami Herald, February 16th, 2017: A Monster Lionfish is Seized in Hunt that Netted Hundreds More

The Fishing Wire, February 11th, 2016: REEF Lionfish Derby in Florida Keys Set for March 12th

CBS Sunday Morning, October 11, 2015: Lionfish: From Malicious to Delicious

Palm Beach Illustrated: Fish On: Summer Lionfish Derbies

Bradenton Herald, July 13, 2015: Sarasota Derby proves "Lion" is the fish you can love to hate

WFLA Channel 8 News, July 10, 2015: Invasive Lionfish being targeted during Sarasota derby

REEF News Release, June 11, 2013: Fifth Annual Green Turtle Cay Lionfish Derby Set for June 22

REEF News Release, June 27, 2013: Fifth Annual Green Turtle Cay Lionfish Derby Closest Ever

The Abaconian, July 5, 2013:
Green Turtle Cay Lionfish Derby

The Sun Sentinel, July 23, 2013: Lionfish Derby

The Miami Herald, July 28, 2013: Divers team up to spear invasive lionfish

The Sun Sentinel, July 28, 2013: More than 250 lionfish collected at Saturday derby, organizers say

The Palm Beach Post, August 17, 2013: Lionfish Derby nets 612 of the spiny "out of control" critters

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub