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.
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. REEF derbies help build a volunteer removal force by equipping divers with necessary tools and skills and by encouraging them to continue removing lionfish throughout the entire year.
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 REEF's Invasive Species Specialist, Emily Stokes at Emily@REEF.org 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!
***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. ***
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