KEY LARGO, FLA. – In spite of Tropical Storm Sally’s unexpected appearance over south Florida, 23 teams took to the water this weekend, bringing in a total of 1,321 invasive lionfish during the 2020 Upper Keys Lionfish Derby; the most fish ever harvested at a REEF Lionfish Derby held in the Florida Keys. Teams were permitted to fish anywhere in Florida, from sunrise to sunset on Friday, Sept. 11 and Saturday, Sept. 12. More than $4,000 in cash and prizes was awarded to teams who brought in the most, largest, and smallest lionfish.
The “Most Lionfish” category included the competitive Apex Predators division, as well as the Reef Defenders division for more casual lionfish hunters. Cash prizes were awarded for first through fifth place in the Apex Predators division. Team Bottle Buddies led the Apex Predators with 295 lionfish. Team Forever Young finished second with 254 lionfish, and team Finn-Atic Fish Co. placed third with 242 lionfish. Fourth place went to team Florida Man with 162 lionfish, and team Pain Killer placed fifth with 141 lionfish. In the Reef Defenders division, team Squid INK won first place with 51 lionfish. Team Totally Working brought in 28 lionfish for second place, and team Pterois Pterror took third place in the division with 17 lionfish.
Competition was extremely close in the largest and smallest lionfish categories. Team Forever Young won first place in the “Largest Lionfish” category with a 410 millimeter lionfish, which is just over 16 inches long. Team Rainbow’s Reef’s second place fish measured 409 mm, and team Lion Kings took third place with a 406 mm fish. The smallest fish of the derby was 60 mm, harvested by team Florida Man. Team Totally Working received second place with an 85 mm fish, and team Got Fish and Team JBK each brought in an 86 mm fish to tie for third place. Teams Florida Man and Bottle Buddies also caught several tiny, live lionfish to be displayed in an educational exhibit at the REEF Campus. The smallest of three live fish captured was 79 mm.
REEF Lionfish Derbies educate the public about invasive species, gather important scientific information on lionfish populations, and promote a consumer market for lionfish. 2020 marked the 11th annual REEF Lionfish Derby held in the Upper Florida Keys. Due to COVID-19, this year’s event was adapted to include two contactless lionfish drop-off stations – one at the REEF Campus in Key Largo and the other at Mote Marine Laboratory in Summerland Key. Although the event did not include any public festivities, plenty of photos and live video footage were shared on social media, including a pre-derby lionfish collecting and handling workshop, lionfish scoring, dissections, and even a cooking demo by Chef Allen Susser. The awards presentation was also conducted virtually and streamed live.
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. 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 and public events such as derbies have been found to significantly reduce lionfish populations on a local scale.
The 2020 Upper Keys Lionfish Derby was possible thanks to the following sponsors: Ocean Reef Conservation Association, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Postcard Inn Resort & Marina, Mote Marine Laboratory, Sharkey’s Sharkbite Grill, and The Weekly Newspapers. Activities occurred within NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary under permit.
Full results from the 2020 Upper Keys Lionfish Derby are posted online at www.REEF.org/2020derby. Next year REEF will host its 12th annual Florida Keys-based lionfish derby, the Keys Lionfish Derby and Festival, scheduled for Sept. 12, 2021, at Postcard Inn Resort and Marina in Islamorada. For more information about REEF Lionfish Derbies, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish-derbies.