Derbies helping eliminate lionfish


KEY WEST, Fla. -- There are 659 less Indo-Pacific red lionfish occupying the waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

The final in a series of three lionfish derbies was staged Saturday, Nov. 13, off the Lower Keys and divers captured 109 of the invasive species, adding to the totals of two previous contests staged in Key Largo in September and in Marathon in October.

During Saturday's derby, Melbourne, Fla., residents Rob Pillus, Jeremy Norcross and Mike Dugan caught 25 lionfish to capture the contest's top $1,000 prize.

Lionfish off the southeast U.S., Bahamas and in the Caribbean impact indigenous fish because they eat important juvenile reef species, such as grouper and snapper.

Lionfish have no known predators except man, said Lad Akins of the Reef Environmental Education Foundation.

They have venomous spines but, when properly cleaned, yield a white meat that is considered a delicacy. Saturday night's derby banquet featured lionfish.

Organized efforts to control the lionfish population and educate divers on the benefits of killing lionfish are to continue Dec. 8 with another derby that coincides with celebration activities surrounding the 50th anniversary of the establishment of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. The park is America's first underwater preserve.

Learn more and sign up at Pennekamp Lionfish Roundup.