REEF’s 2019 Lionfish Derby Series ended on Sunday, Sept. 15 with the 10th Annual Upper Keys Lionfish Derby and Festival, hosted by Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina. Throughout the weekend, 28 derby competitors scoured the reefs and brought in a total of 1,263 lionfish, a new record for REEF Lionfish Derbies in the Florida Keys. Nine teams competed for most, largest, and smallest lionfish in this year’s Upper Keys Derby, vying for more than $4,400 in cash and prizes.
Team Forever Young took first place in the “Most Lionfish” category with 395 lionfish. Team Florida Man finished second with 311 lionfish, and team Sharkbait placed third with 216 lionfish. Team Florida Man won first place in the “Largest Lionfish” category with a 397 millimeter lionfish, which is just over 15 inches long. Team Florida Man also won “Smallest Lionfish” with a 45 millimeter fish, named Sysco and is displayed alive in an educational aquarium at REEF Headquarters. The youngest derby participant, thirteen-year-old Will Wardlaw, led his team Wardlaw’s Warriors to place in all three categories!
Awards were also presented for the overall series winners. Team Forever Young removed 544 lionfish during the 2019 Lionfish Derby Series, the most of any team this year. They also collected the largest lionfish of the 2019 series, a 400 millimeter specimen. Team Florida Man’s 45 millimeter lionfish was the smallest of any lionfish caught during the 2019 Lionfish Derby Series.
REEF Lionfish Derbies educate the public about invasive species, gather important scientific information on lionfish populations, and promote a consumer market for lionfish. Throughout the day, festival attendees sampled a variety of delicious lionfish dishes prepared by professional chefs, participated in lionfish dissections and filleting demonstrations and games, and visited outreach booths staffed by conservation-oriented organizations and businesses at the picturesque setting of Postcard Inn Marina.
Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific region, are an invasive species in the Tropical Western Atlantic, and are causing significant negative impacts to native marine life throughout the region. Lionfish can result in a 65%-95% reduction in native fish populations on certain sites. Impacts to valuable commercial fish like grouper and snapper could cause severe ecological and economic damage to countries in the invaded range. Regular removals and public events such as derbies have been found to significantly reduce lionfish populations on a local scale.
Thank you to all the participating teams, staff and volunteers who helped make this year's Upper Keys Lionfish Derby and Festival a success, and to all the vendors and exhibitors who attended the event. This event was possible thanks to the generous support of our sponsors, including Postcard Inn Resort and Marina, Whole Foods Market, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Ocean Reef Conservation Commission, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida, Sharkey’s Pub and Galley, Keys Weekly, Florida Keys Brewing Company, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Activities occurred within NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary under permit.
Dates and locations are currently being confirmed for REEF’s 2020 Lionfish Derby Series. For more information and upcoming events, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish-derbies.