On Saturday, March 30, ten teams of 34 divers removed 620 invasive lionfish during REEF’s 7th Annual Winter Lionfish Derby, held at Sharkey’s Pub and Galley Restaurant in Key Largo. Between sunrise and 6 p.m., competitors scoured Florida Keys reefs in an attempt to to bring in the smallest lionfish, largest lionfish, and most number of individual lionfish. Team Forever Young caught the most fish at 149 individual lionfish. Team Proweb Zookeeper took first place for the largest lionfish at 417mm (about 16 in.) and Team Bottle Buddies caught the smallest lionfish at 77mm (roughly 3 in.), which is now on display in an educational aquarium at REEF Headquarters. Prizes including cash, gift cards to local restaurants, and dive trips were awarded to the winning teams.

Derby attendees enjoyed the fun, festival-style atmosphere of the event. Games, music, and crafts organized by Ocean Studies Charter School created a family-friendly environment. REEF staff and volunteers demonstrated how to fillet lionfish, and free lionfish tastings were available for the public to sample, including fresh lionfish ceviche and fried lionfish bites. To encourage market development, more than 200 pounds of lionfish caught during the derby were sold to Halperns’ Steak and Seafood. The lionfish will be available at local Whole Foods Markets.

We would like to say a big thank you to Rainbow Reef Dive Center for donating a morning and afternoon charter to allow teams without boats to participate in the derby. This partnership helped to increase participation and make the derby more accessible to a wider range of divers and conservationists, and we are very thankful for Rainbow Reef's support!

Thank you to all of the staff and volunteers who helped make this year's Winter Lionfish Derby a success. This event would not have been possible without the generous support of Sharkey’s Pub and Galley Restaurant, Rainbow Reef Dive Center, Whole Foods Market, Ocean Reef Conservation Association, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. In-kind donations in the form of derby prizes were provided by Amoray Dive Resort, Rock the Ocean Foundation, Divers Direct, Lukkar Realty Commercial Capital, Sea Tow, Sundowners, Skipper’s Dockside, Lazy Lobster Seafood Restaurant, The Fish House, The Catch Restaurant & Bar, Hobos Café, and Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen.

For the past 11 years, REEF has organized lionfish derbies throughout Florida. The 2019 Summer Lionfish Derby Series includes events in Fort Lauderdale (June 30), Sarasota (July 14), and the Upper Keys (Sept. 15.) For complete derby results and more information on upcoming lionfish derbies, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies.

All activities occurred within NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary under permit number FKNMS-2019-023.