Fourteen teams of divers persevered through windy conditions to bring in 494 invasive lionfish during the 2021 REEF Earth Day “Locals” Lionfish Derby. Teams were permitted to fish in Monroe County waters from sunrise to sunset on Saturday, April 24. More than $2,500 in cash and prizes was awarded to teams who brought in the most, largest, and smallest lionfish.
The “Most Lionfish” category included the competitive Apex Predators division, as well as the Reef Defenders division for more casual lionfish hunters. Cash prizes were awarded for first through fourth place in the Apex Predators division. Team Forever Young led the Apex Predators with 269 lionfish. Team Bottle Buddies finished second with 120 lionfish, team Lion Kings placed third with 37 lionfish and team South Dade Spearfishers took fourth with 12 lionfish. In the Reef Defenders division, team Wild Hogs won first place with 23 lionfish. Team Pirates Cove brought in 20 lionfish for second place, and team Lion & the Ladies took third place in the division with seven lionfish.
Team Lion Kings won first place in the “Largest Lionfish” category with a 434 millimeter lionfish, which is just over 17 inches long. The smallest fish of the derby was 97 mm, harvested by team Bottle Buddies, who also caught two tiny, live lionfish to be displayed in an educational exhibit at the REEF Campus.
Due to COVID-19, this year’s event was socially distant, and all fish were received via a drop-off station at the REEF Campus in Key Largo. Although the event did not include any public festivities, plenty of photos and live video footage were shared on social media, including lionfish scoring and dissections. The awards presentation was also conducted virtually and streamed live.
Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, are an invasive species in the Tropical Western Atlantic and are causing significant negative impacts to native marine life throughout the region. REEF Lionfish Derbies educate the public about invasive species, gather important scientific information on lionfish populations, and promote a consumer market for lionfish. Regular removals and events like derbies have been found to significantly reduce lionfish populations at the local scale and engage communities to continue supporting the effort and management. 2021 is the 12th year that REEF has hosted a Lionfish Derby in the Upper Florida Keys. To date, nearly 60,000 lionfish have been removed from REEF-supported derbies, outreach and research programs.
The 2021 Lionfish Derby Series will culminate with the Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival on Sept. 9-12 at Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina in Islamorada. This 12th annual event includes two full days of fishing and a public festival with lionfish scoring and tastings, educational demos, games, crafts, raffles, and activity booths from environmentally-focused vendors. For more information, visit www.REEF.org/derby.
2021 REEF Lionfish Derby Series sponsors include Ocean Reef Conservation Association, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Postcard Inn Resort & Marina, Sharkey’s Sharkbite Grille, Forever Young Charter Company, Triad Foundation, and Mesara Foundation. All activities occured within NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary under permit.