KEY LARGO, FLA. – Thanks to the recent efforts of four local divers, there are several hundred less invasive lionfish wreaking havoc on Florida Keys reefs. Team Forever Young, consisting of Tony Young, Jason Vogan, Jeff Tharp, and Luke Rankin, collected 426 invasive lionfish while participating in the 2022 Earth Day “Locals” Lionfish Derby, hosted by Reef Environmental Education Foundation.
Teams were permitted to fish in Monroe County waters from sunrise to sunset on Saturday, April 23, although windy conditions prevented most teams from getting on the water this year. Team Forever Young, the only team who ventured out, brought in 426 fish, which set a record for a single-day REEF Lionfish Derby held in the Florida Keys. The largest lionfish of the competition measured 425 mm, and the smallest lionfish was 102 mm.
On Sunday, April 24, the community gathered at Sharkey’s Sharkbite Grill in Key Largo to see all the lionfish derby scoring action, including measuring, dissections, and filleting. Attendees also learned about invasive species through hands-on demos and games, sampled fresh lionfish ceviche and beer-battered lionfish, and interacted with local conservation organizations.
REEF Lionfish Derbies educate the public about invasive species, gather important scientific information on lionfish populations, and promote a consumer market for lionfish. 2022 is the 13th year that REEF has hosted a Lionfish Derby in the Upper Florida Keys. During a REEF Lionfish Derby, prizes are awarded to teams who bring in the most, largest, and smallest lionfish, and cash prizes are awarded for first through third place.
Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, are an invasive species in the Tropical Western Atlantic and are causing significant negative impacts to native marine life throughout the region. Regular removals and events like derbies have been found to significantly reduce lionfish populations at the local scale and engage communities to continue supporting the effort and management. To date, more than 60,000 lionfish have been removed from REEF-supported derbies, outreach and research programs.
REEF will host the Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival on Sept. 11 at Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina in Islamorada. This 13th annual event includes two full days of fishing and a public festival with lionfish scoring and tastings, educational demos, games, crafts, raffles, and activity booths from environmentally-focused vendors. For more information, visit www.REEF.org/derby.
The 2022 REEF Lionfish Derby Series is made possible thanks to Ocean Reef Conservation Association, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina, Sharkey’s Sharkbite Grill, Ocean Conservancy, Baker’s Cay Resort, ZooKeeper LLC, Forever Young Charter Company and Triad Foundation. All activities occurred within NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary under permit.
Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) conserves marine environments worldwide. Our mission is to protect biodiversity and ocean life by actively engaging and inspiring the public through citizen science, education, and partnerships with the scientific community. For more information, visit www.REEF.org.