Third Annual Palm Beach County Lionfish Derby set for August 17

Teams will compete for over $3,500 for removing the invasive species

By Keri Kenning, REEF Communications Manager

When Bobbie Lindsay, a Palm Beach County native, saw her first lionfish in the Atlantic in 2008, she knew it did not belong in this ocean. Shortly after, a lionfish stung one of her friends while diving. The swelling made his forearm as big as Popeye’s. Fueled by his pain and the knowledge that lionfish were devouring Florida’s fish populations, Lindsay decided to stab back at lionfish.

“Something has to be done.”

“Let’s create a hunting tournament for killing them.”

A couple of phone calls later, Lindsay teamed up with the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) out of Key Largo and launched the world’s first invasive lionfish derby.

On August 17, teams from around the region will hunt in the Third Annual Palm Beach County Lionfish Derby. Their mission: remove lionfish. Their reward: over $3,500 in cash prizes for bringing in the most lionfish, largest lionfish, and smallest lionfish.

What would possess teams to go out and decimate a fish population? The invasive species are voracious predators that threaten marine ecosystems by devouring over 70 species of native fish and invertebrates. Defended from predators by 18 venomous spines, lionfish rule the reefs and reproduce as often as every four days, year round. And they taste delicious.

“Lionfish are the Atlantic ecosystem’s worst nightmare,” says Lad Akins, co-organizer of the derby and Director of Special Projects at REEF. “They are eating machines covered in venomous spines. Unstoppable, until divers began intervening.”

Hopes are high for the third annual lionfish derby at Sailfish Marina. Divers removed 1,043 lionfish in a single day during last year’s lionfish derby, a record in Florida.

Research from REEF’s 2012 Green Turtle Cay Bahamas Lionfish Derby showed divers put a huge dent in the local lionfish population. Researchers from Oregon State University and REEF assessed the lionfish population in the Sea of Abaco surrounding Green Turtle Cay immediately before and after the derby. The data suggest derby participants removed almost 70% of the local lionfish population over an area of 150 square kilometers.

“Based off this research, we have learned divers can make a huge difference,” says Dr. Stephanie Green of Oregon State University.  

Sponsors of this year’s derby include Sailfish Marina and Brown Distributing Company of Palm Beach County, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Zookeeper, and Divers Direct. Many individual Palm Beach County donors have also added financial support from the outset of the derbies, including local boaters, divers, and fishers.

Besides removing significant numbers of lionfish, derbies are also critical for gathering samples for scientific research, increasing education and awareness, helping develop a commercial market for lionfish, training divers in removal techniques, and encouraging regular year-round removals.

“We are thrilled to host the third Annual  Palm Beach County Lionfish Derby,” Lindsay says. “We have many skilled teams participating this year.”

The scoring, tasting and festivities will begin at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 17 at the Sailfish Marina on Singer Island.  Cod and Capers will be making delicious preparations of lionfish free for the public, right on the waterfront of Sailfish Marina.  All are welcome to watch the scoring and taste lionfish samples.

Teams wanting to participate in the derby should preregister at and plan to attend the mandatory Captain’s Meeting at the Sailfish Marina on Friday, August 16 at 5:30 pm. To learn more about the derby, visit

About REEF

REEF is widely recognized as a leading authority in lionfish research, removal practices and educational outreach. REEF partners with scientists and government agencies to conduct lionfish research and engage stakeholders in removals. These activities are integral to local, national and international plans and strategies addressing the invasion. For more info visit