Two More Lionfish Derbies Are Scheduled
Forget the snapper and amberjack. More than 100 divers collected 534 Indo-Pacific red lionfish during the first concerted effort to reduce the population of the invasive species in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
The first of three Keys-based lionfish derbies Saturday attracted 27 teams, which competed for cash and prizes to collect the most, largest and smallest lionfish. The top $1,000 prize was awarded to a group that captured 111 lionfish.
The second derby is planned for Oct. 16 at Keys Fisheries Restaurant in Marathon and the third Nov. 13 at the Hurricane Hole Marina in Key West.
Lad Akins, of the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, says unsuspecting pet owners are releasing the nonnative fish into the Atlantic, where they have no natural predators.
The lionfish population has been growing rapidly in waters off the Keys, concerning environmentalists who say they could devastate fragile coral reefs and disrupt the marine ecosystem balance.
The growing population of lionfish is impacting indigenous fish, because they eat important juvenile reef species such as grouper and snapper.
The mane-like assemblage of spines that give the fish its lion-like appearance are tipped in poison that can cause severe pain, swelling, nausea, headaches and convulsions. However, the fish can be safely handled once the spines have been removed and many people fillet lionfish and cook them up just like any other fish.