Last month, 22 teams of scuba divers took to the water and collected 1,898 invasive lionfish during the 14th Annual REEF Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival. Derby teams fished from sunrise to sunset on Friday, Sept. 8 and Saturday, Sept. 9. On Sunday, Sept. 10, participants gathered at Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina in Islamorada for a community celebration. The festival featured lionfish tastings, cooking and dissection demos, games, interactive booths, and live music.

More than $7,000 in cash and prizes were awarded to teams who brought in the most, largest, and smallest lionfish. The “Most Lionfish” category included the competitive Apex Predators division and the Reef Defenders division for casual lionfish hunters. Forever Young led the Apex Predators with 648 lionfish, setting a record for the most lionfish harvested by a single derby team! Volitans finished second with 291 lionfish, and Team Trash placed third with 101 lionfish. Fourth, fifth and sixth places went to ZooKeeper with 91 lionfish, The Hunters with 80 lionfish, and Will 2 Spear with 71 lionfish. In the Reef Defenders division, Men of Science won first place with 156 lionfish. Sea Venom Creations brought in 128 lionfish for second place, Barnacles won third place with 121 lionfish, and Reefreaks placed fourth with 55 lionfish.

Competition was close in the largest and smallest lionfish categories. Barnacles won first place in the “Largest Lionfish” category with a 428 mm fish, nearly 17 inches long. Men of Science’s second place fish measured 421 mm, and Forever Young won third place with a 415 mm fish. The smallest fish of the derby was 60 mm (just over two inches) and was collected live by ZooKeeper. Will 2 Spear won second place with a 72 mm fish, and Tequila Little Time brought in a 76 mm fish, also live, to win third place. The two live lionfish are now part of an educational exhibit at the REEF Campus in Key Largo. Full results from the derby are posted online here.

REEF Lionfish Derbies educate the public about invasive species, gather data about lionfish populations, and promote a consumer market for lionfish. Regular removals events have been found to significantly reduce lionfish populations on a local scale. REEF has been hosting lionfish derbies in the Florida Keys since 2010, and the 1,898 invasive lionfish harvested during this year’s derby is the most that have ever been caught during a REEF Lionfish Derby in the Florida Keys!

We are thankful to our supporters who made this year's derby possible, including Ocean Conservancy, Ocean Reef Conservation Association, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, TRIAD, Mesara Foundation, and Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina. Activities occurred within NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary under permit.

REEF will host the 15th annual Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival in 2024. Stay tuned for more information about next year's event, and for more details about REEF Lionfish Derbies, visit