1,204 lionfish taken in world's longest running lionfish removal event

Braving drenching downpours and lighting strikes, 16 teams of lionfish hunters took part in the 5th Annual Green Turtle Cay Lionfish Derby on Saturday, June 22nd in Abaco, Bahamas.  The rain could not put a damper on the enthusiastic removal of invasive lionfish from the Sea of Abaco in what is the longest running tournament of its kind. 

The 62 participants brought in 1,204 lionfish to the Green Turtle Club during the sunrise until 4:00pm event.  Vying for more than $7,000 in cash prizes, this year’s derby made history as the closest competition with first place Lil’ Big Fish edging out Spear Benders by a single fish.  The third and fourth place teams were a tie with the edge going to Marsh Harbor’s R&R by time.

Awards were also given in first through third places for top foreign boat (Starlight, Weekend Cowboy and Team Zissou) as well as first through third for largest and smallest fish caught.  Top female angler in this year’s derby was Palm Beach Gardens resident Peggy Rafferty.

The derby was made possible by sponsorship through the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, Green Turtle Club, and Brendal’s Dive Shop and individual donations from US and Bahamian businesses and residents. Burns House Gilbys Gin generously provided great cocktails to the crowd of participants and onlookers tasting delicious samples of lionfish ceviche, lionfish tempura and asian lionfish hotpot.

Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific region, are an invasive species in the Bahamas and western Atlantic and are causing significant impacts to native marine life in the Bahamas.  According to Dr Stephanie Green, researcher at Oregon State University, some sites in the Bahamas have seen 65-95% declines in native fish in a two year period.  Impacts to valuable food fish like grouper and snapper could cause damage to the economy and ecology of the Bahamas. 

Regular removals and removal events are showing promise however, in reducing local lionfish populations and sizes.  Lad Akins and Bobbie Lindsay, derby co-organizers, both commented on the apparent smaller size of lionfish in this year’s derby, indicating success in minimizing their impacts. 

The Green Turtle Lionfish Derby is one of the few derbies that also combines research with removals and data on sizes of fish landed during the derby were recorded by teams of researchers and volunteers from the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF).  A number of fish were also tagged prior to the event and special awards given to those finding and collecting tagged fish.  Data from the derby are shared with the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) who grants a single day exemption for the use of compressed air during the derby.  The DMR encourages divers to remove any lionfish they encounter while obeying Bahamian laws and regulations. 

For complete derby results and information on additional Bahamian and international derbies, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish