Divers put a hurting on invasive lionfish on Sept. 8 and 9 at the 14th annual REEF Florida Keys Lionfish Derby. A record 1,898 lionfish were collected, and a single team set another tournament record by bringing 648 of the nasty critters back to the docks.
Team Forever Young, led by Capt. Tony Young, of Forever Young Spearfishing, really put in the work and won the “Most Lionfish” division of the tourney. With team members Capt. Jason Vogan, Capt. Billy Moscatello and Capt. Luke Rankin, this is the third time Forever Young has set a new tournament records for total catch.
Overall, 22 teams of divers competed at the event, and $7,000 in cash and prizes were awarded to teams that 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. Forever Young obviously won the Apex Predators division. Volitans finished second with 291 lionfish, and Team Trash placed third with 101 lionfish.
In the Reef Defenders division, Men of Science won first place with 156 lionfish. Sea Venom Creations brought in 128 lionfish for second place, Barnacles won third place with 121 lionfish.
Competition was close in the largest and smallest lionfish categories. Barnacles won first place in the “Largest Lionfish” category with a 16.85-inch lionfish. Men of Science’s second place fish measured 16.57 inches, and Forever Young took third with a 16.34-inch fish.
The smallest fish of the derby was 2.36 inches and was collected live by ZooKeeper. Team Will 2 Spear won second place with a 2.83-incher, and Tequila Little Time brought in a 2.99-inch fish, also live, to take third. The two live lionfish will be part of an educational exhibit at the REEF Campus.
In case you been under a rock, lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific and are highly invasive and detrimental to native marine life on our coasts. Events like REEF’s derbies are held all along the Florida coast to both raise awareness of the problem and to cut down on lionfish numbers.
“Lionfish derbies show how a community can come together to support ocean conservation while combating invasive species. It’s so exciting that our teams set a new Florida Keys record of 1,898 invasive lionfish removed. We are very thankful to all of the derby participants, event volunteers, and everyone who attended and helped make the Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival such a great success,” said Alli Candelmo, Ph.D., REEF Conservation Science Manager.
For more information about REEF Lionfish Derbies, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish-derbies.