12th annual event a stunning success thanks to derby teams, festival attendees, and event volunteers

KEY LARGO, FLA. – Twenty teams took to the water this past weekend and collected 1,216 invasive lionfish during the 2021 Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival, hosted by Reef Environmental Education Foundation. Teams fished from sunrise to sunset on Friday, Sept. 10 and Saturday, Sept. 11. The event concluded on Sunday, Sept. 12 at Postcard Inn Resort & Marina in Islamorada, with an outdoor festival featuring lionfish tastings, cooking and dissection demos, games, interactive booths, and live music.

More than $6,000 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. Team Forever Young led the Apex Predators with a 564 lionfish, a new record for this derby. Team Pain Killer finished second with 265 lionfish, and team Massai Warriors placed third with 142 lionfish. Fourth place went to team Salty Spine Slayer with 18 lionfish. In the Reef Defenders division, team Squid INK won first place with 50 lionfish. Team Good Will Spearfishing brought in 43 lionfish for second place, team Wild Hogs Dive Club took third place with 35 lionfish, and SWC Inc. placed fourth with 22 lionfish.

Competition was extremely close in the largest and smallest lionfish categories. Team Massai Warriors won first place in the “Largest Lionfish” category with a 436 millimeter lionfish, more than 17 inches long. Team Pain Killer’s second place fish measured 421 mm, and team Forever Young took third place with a 404 mm fish. The smallest fish of the derby was 69 mm, harvested by team SWC Inc. Team Gini’s Tonic won second place with a 70 mm fish, and team Wild Hogs Dive Club brought in a 77 mm fish to receive third place. Team Wild Hogs Dive Club also brought in a 77 mm live lionfish to be displayed in an educational exhibit at the REEF Campus. Full results from the 2021 derby are posted online here.

Native to the Indo-Pacific, lionfish 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 data about lionfish populations, and promote a consumer market for lionfish. According to Dr. Stephanie Green, a University of Alberta researcher, 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 events have been found to significantly reduce lionfish populations on a local scale.

“The annual Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival demonstrates how our community can actively combat the lionfish invasion and make a difference. Sunday was a stormy day in Islamorada, and we really appreciate all of the vendors, teams, volunteers, and festival attendees who stuck it out in the rain and helped make this year’s lionfish derby a success,” said Alli Candelmo, Ph.D., REEF Conservation Science Manager.

The 2021 Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival was possible thanks to the following supporters: Ocean Reef Conservation Association, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Postcard Inn Resort & Marina, Sharkey’s Sharkbite Grill, Forever Young Charter Company, Triad Foundation and Mesara Foundation. Activities occurred within NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary under permit.

REEF will host the 13th annual Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival from Sept. 8-11, 2022, with the festival taking place on Sunday, Sept. 11 at Postcard Inn Resort and Marina. For more information about REEF Lionfish Derbies, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish-derbies.

About REEF
Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) conserves marine environments worldwide. Our mission is to protect biodiversity and ocean life by actively engaging and inspiring the public through citizen science, education, and partnerships with the scientific community. For more information, visit www.REEF.org.