Kill ’em All! REEF Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival is August 15-18


Divers can help preserve native reef fish populations while vying for prize money during the 15th annual Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival. Scheduled for Thursday through Sunday, Aug. 15-18, the fun and competitive event is sponsored by Reef Environmental Education Foundation.

Derby teams in two divisions will hit the water to capture and remove as many non-native lionfish as possible. The Apex Predators division is designed with greater prize money for competitive divers, while Reef Defenders is a more casual division with less prize money but equally credible bragging rights.

Over $6,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded to those scoring the most lionfish, the largest lionfish and the smallest, and to the winner of the golden fish raffle award.
Teams of two to four people can register online by Friday, July 12, for an early bird rate of $90 per team. Thereafter, registration is $120 per team until 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15.

A mandatory team captains meeting is set for Aug. 15 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the REEF campus, 98300 Overseas Highway in Key Largo. Remote attendance by team captains will be allowed this year, but all team members are encouraged to attend the in-person meeting. The meeting’s focus is lionfish ecology, the best collecting tools and safe handling techniques.

Derby participants can hunt from sunrise to sundown Friday and Saturday, Aug. 16-17, collecting lionfish by spearing, netting or by hook and line while scuba diving, snorkeling or free diving and following all federal and state fishing regulations. Participants can dive from a private vessel or with a professional dive operator.

“Invaders on Tap, a Lionfish Awareness Celebration,” is slated for 4-9 p.m. Saturday at Florida Keys Brewing Company, 81611 Old Highway in Islamorada. Open to the public as well as Lionfish Derby participants, it is to feature engaging activities, the Tacos Jalisco food truck, live music and family-friendly fun.

Although there is no scheduled hunting Sunday, Aug. 18, all fish should be turned in to the scoring station at REEF between 8:30 and 11:30 a.m.

Sunday’s festival activities, open to the public and set for 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the REEF campus, include team scoring and awards. Attendees can also enjoy games, educational demos and raffles for prizes.

REEF staff will provide lionfish fillet and dissection demonstrations, plus free lionfish ceviche samples. Although commonly served as ceviche or sushi, lionfish can be prepared like any other fish and is similar to halibut or grouper in texture and flavor.

The Lionfish Derby awards ceremony is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. Winning teams do not need to be in attendance, but teams must arrange to pick up any prizes if they are not at the awards.

Founded in Key Largo in 1990, REEF has joined the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Keys dive community to provide hands-on opportunities for “citizen scientist” recreational divers.

Lionfish hunters focused on sustainability can actively remove the invasive, voracious species that was introduced to Florida waters during the 1980s, lessening the pressure on existing reef fish ecosystems and providing a healthy new food source for human consumption.

Event details and REEF information: or (305) 852-0030.

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