A local nonprofit, Coast Watch Alliance, has revived the fall Lionfish derby with much success. Saturday October 5th nearly 1500 of these invasive species were remove from our waters in just one day. As the dog days of summer set in for the last several years the invasive Volitans have enjoyed a reprieve from justifiable predation. That will not be the case from here on out. Coast Watch Alliance, with the help of many sponsors, brought back a fall Lionfish tournament and intends to step up the pressure with their World Lionfish Championship series. These fall tournaments will help diminish their numbers before they head for deeper waters. Once the Gulf of Mexico cools Lionfish become harder to find in normal sport diving depths. Lionfish prefer warmer water and will move offshore as evidenced by the rare surveys done in these depths, and the immediate rebound in their numbers once the waters warm. There has been talk about reduced sightings, but the spring tournaments have continued to bring in higher yields of fish than ever before. In addition to the steady increase in the numbers of harvested fish, there are now more frequent encounters in our bays, and estuaries.
The Pensacola Lionfish Classic was patterned after tournaments that were originally held in a small venue, with prizes and monies derived from local sources; businesses, chambers, the divers themselves, and later with much help from the Florida Wildlife and Conservation Commission. The prize money for the Pensacola Lionfish Classic was notable but not what one would call epic. The overall theme had a grass roots kind of feeling, as many teams were first time Lionfish hunters. When Lionfish first started to proliferate North American reefs. no one knew how to effectively harvest them. Due to their sheer numbers, we learned pretty quick. The next step was to get Lionfish out in the market for people to consume. They taste great, and we have an abundant supply. This process is laborious and requires people to think about asking their favorite eateries to serve the fish. Several restaurants now routinely serve Lionfish and are glad they do. But this process takes time. The concept then and as it should be now, is to pass on that knowledge to other divers. This will enable more divers to help remove this invasive species from our environment and at the same time take home a fine tasting catch for dinner.
Many of the teams in the Pensacola Lionfish Classic were fielded by our local dive club, 3rd Coast Divers. I watched as these folks put time in learning techniques on one day of diving, and then honing those skills over many other days in preparation for this tournament. Though they may not have taken home the prize money, some of these teams fared rather well in the Pensacola Lionfish Classic. The one resounding impression they related to me was that they had a great time. They felt involved, making a difference for the environment that they love. And they got a cool t-shirt. This was a tournament that the average diver felt comfortable at.
It is my hope that we can keep up a tradition of having at least one Lionfish derby where the skilled hunters will mentor the next generation of Lionfish predators. I totally get going out there and trying to get a share of potentially tens of thousands of dollars that some of the larger tournaments offer. By mentoring others, Spearos may use their skills to have a longer lasting and greater impact on the Lionfish invasion. Go ahead and take out a couple of the people that keep asking you to show them the ropes. In the long run you will increase your catch exponentially. I look forward to seeing all of you at the next Pensacola Lionfish Classic, old Spearos, and neophytes alike.
For more information, contact Dive Pros at #850-456-8845