Saturday afternoon, 10 scuba diving teams hit the water in search of lionfish as part of the first REEF/Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary lionfish derby of the season. By the end of the day, more than 500 of the invasive and predatory fish had been speared or netted by participants who traveled from throughout the Southeast for the event.
Lionfish are a growing problem throughout the Atlantic Coast, Florida Keys, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. The flamboyant fish is easily spotted by its array of venomous spines. The lionfish, which reproduces at a spectacularly fast rate, is causing damage in local waters because it has no natural predators and its natural habitat is the South Pacific. Scientists have been studying the Lionfish problem for the last two years.
Officials from REEF and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has scheduled at least three Lionfish events for scuba divers and watersports enthusiasts for the spring and summer. Saturday’s event at Fiesta Key Resort in Long Key is the first of the three. Organizers said that as of Saturday evening, the unofficial total was 530 lionfish.
A lively mix of male and female divers came to middle Keys for the event. Participants ranged from teens to retired executives and hailed from Miami all the way to the lower Keys. Some hunted with scuba equipment and others were free diving.
After getting out of the water, teams had their catch “weighed” and then went to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary area, where the fish were filleted for the evening