KEY LARGO, FLA. – Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) will kick off the 2021 Lionfish Derby Series with a socially distant Earth Day Lionfish Derby on Friday, April 23 through Sunday, April 25.
During the derby, divers will compete to remove as many invasive lionfish as possible. Cash prizes will be awarded to the teams who harvest the most, largest, and smallest lionfish. The “most lionfish” category will include the competitive Apex Predators division, as well as the Reef Defenders division, intended for more casual lionfish hunters. Teams may choose to register in either division.
Teams of two to four people may register online. Derby registration is $75 per team through April 10, and $100/team through April 23. A mandatory Captains’ Meeting will be held virtually at 6:30pm on April 23. The meeting with cover lionfish ecology, safe collecting and handling techniques, permits, and regulations. An optional “Intro to Invasive Lionfish” webinar will take place at 5:30pm. The webinar is open to all participants, but those new to lionfish hunting are encouraged to attend.
Derby participants can hunt lionfish from sunrise to sunset on Saturday, April 24. Fishing is permitted throughout the waters of Monroe County, Florida only. Lionfish may be collected by netting or spearing while diving, snorkeling, or free diving; following all federal and state fishing regulations. Participants can dive from a private vessel or with a dive operator. Pirates Cove Watersports, Rainbow Reef Dive Center, and Islamorada Dive Center are offering lionfish hunting charters on April 24. Interested participants should contact dive shops directly.
There will be a contactless drop-off station at the REEF Campus in Key Largo on April 24 from 4-7pm and April 25 from 7-10am. All fish must be dropped off by 10am on April 25. A virtual awards ceremony will be conducted at 2pm. Portions of the event will also be livestreamed on the REEF Invasive Species Program Facebook page throughout the weekend. Sharkey’s Sharkbite Grille in Key Largo will also be offering lionfish tastings and donating drink tickets to participants.
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. 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. To date, nearly 50,000 lionfish have been removed from REEF-supported derbies.
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.
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 occur within NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary under permit.
For more information, visit www.REEF.org/derby or call 305-852-0030.
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.